Spaceflight to Launch Space Tugs on Arianespace’s Vega C

Spaceflight Inc. has signed agreement with SAB Launch Services to launch its Sherpa space tugs aboard Vega C SSMS missions.
Credit: ESA – M. Pedoussaut

Spaceflight Inc has partnered with Italian launch broker SAB Launch Services (SAB-LS) to fly its Sherpa space tugs aboard Arianespace-managed, Avio-built Vega C rockets, making use of an ESA-initiated service. 

We’re going to need a diagram if this gets any more complicated.

What’s in it for Spaceflight + SAB-LS?

Founded in 2018, SAB-LS offers launch services for micro- and nanosats aboard Vega C Small Satellites Mission Service (SSMS) missions. The Vega C launch agreement with Spaceflight further solidifies ties between the two companies, which began in 2021. 

  1. “For us, Spaceflight is a strategic partner which helped to open up to the U.S. commercial and institutional market. Now we have a common strategy to provide more solutions to our customers,” said SAB-LS CEO Marco Mariani.
  2. With this deal, Spaceflight has secured another launch vehicle to host its Sherpa space tugs, while also building a beachhead in the European market.

“We’re excited to build on our already strong relationship with SAB and expand the Spaceflight portfolio of launch partners to include Vega for our family of Sherpa vehicles,” said Spaceflight CEO Curt Blake.

Europe’s first rideshare initiative and Vega C

The SSMS offering was a product of the Light Satellite, Low-Cost Launch Opportunity Initiative adopted by ESA during the 2016 ministerial-level council meeting. The idea was to offer low-cost regular launch services for European institutional light satellites by fully exploiting the capacity aboard Ariane 6 and Vega C missions.

To make European rideshare dreams a reality, ESA and Avio designed a new dispenser system. Czech space tech company SAB Aerospace built the system (both SAB-LS and Sab Aerospace are parts of the SAB group). The dispenser is designed to accommodate multiple configurations and host payloads ranging from 1 kg to 400 kg.

A demo mission for the new initiative on Vega C was expected to take place in H2 2018. But technical issues, payload logistics challenges, a failure in 2019, and the onset of the pandemic scrapped the mission until September 2020. 

53 individual payloads were launched aboard that initial demo mission. Spaceflight Inc was aboard the flight, providing mission management and rideshare integration services for 28 customer payloads. That initial launch agreement was signed with Arianespace in April 2018 before SAB-LS was founded.

To date, this initial demo flight has been the only SSMS mission to be launched.

What’s next? Although debuted aboard Vega, all future SSMS rideshare missions will be launched aboard Vega-C flights. The rocket made its long-awaited debut in June, carrying the LARES-2 satellite and six secondary payloads. The first SSMS flight aboard Vega-C is currently expected to blast off in early 2023. 

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