• An artistic rendering of Exolaunch’s Reliant OTV, which will launch small satellites to custom orbits and remove space debris. (Credit: Exolaunch)
    An artistic rendering of Exolaunch’s Reliant OTV, which will launch small satellites to custom orbits and remove space debris. (Credit: Exolaunch)

German launch services provider Exolaunch has introduced its space tug program, featuring a new line of orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) that will launch satellites to custom orbits in an environmentally responsible way.

The company’s space tug testing and flight qualification will begin in 2022 on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rideshare missions.

The company, which has deployed over 140 satellites to date across different launch vehicles, said that the new OTVs – named Reliant – will offer “the most robust OTV platform on the market for performance, payload, capacity, and flexibility in executing orbital manoeuvres”.

Exolaunch’s tug is powered by a green propulsion system, which also provides a high thrust-to-weight ratio and meets high standards for environmental safety. Its design also leverages additive technologies using lightweight carbon fibre composites and 3D printing, resulting in low mass and high cost-efficiency. The Reliant currently comes in two configurations, Standard and Pro. 

The Standard configuration is optimal for moving satellites to a custom orbit altitude after they’ve been deployed from a launch vehicle on a set rideshare orbit. For example, the utilized propulsion system allows to lift the orbit from 250-300 kilometres to 550 kilometres in one hour, greatly expanding the reach of existing missions to the small satellite community.

The Pro configuration enables customers to not only change the orbit altitude, but also adjust the inclination, LTAN/LTDN and perform orbital phasing for satellite constellations. Additionally, it is designed to deorbit in less than two hours after deployment completion, minimizing the risks of space collisions and reducing orbital debris.

“There is an increased demand from our customers and the NewSpace industry for dedicated injection and custom orbit in their constellation deployment programs, but until now they’ve been limited to one orbit per launch,” Jeanne Medvedeva, Vice President of Launch Services at Exolaunch, said. “Our space tug program will now offer customers multiple orbit options for smallsat deployments on any given mission, enabling wider access to space and diverse constellation launch strategies.

“It is also our contribution to the capacity-building of in-space logistics, a new emerging niche that is gaining value in the Exolaunch portfolio.”

Reliant will also be environmentally conscious, featuring the ability to install modular payloads with the purpose of tackling the growing issue of space debris. After safely deploying satellites into their target orbits, an essential task of the Reliant Pro would be to collect authorized space debris prior to deorbiting.

“In designing our OTV, we paid due regard to the space sustainability and space debris mitigation guidelines with constant thought as to how we could make a positive change and go beyond what has been done to set a new benchmark,” Dr Olga Stelmakh-Drescher, Exolaunch Chief Policy and Government Relations Officer, said. “With that in mind, we developed a feature that would allow Exolaunch to not only mitigate the risk of space debris generation, but also to reduce the amount of debris in orbit every time Reliant is launched.

“We believe this dedicated OTV service will be in high demand by space governmental and intergovernmental organizations, and later on by private actors once the practice is established.”

Exolaunch’s space tugs are compatible with any launch vehicle, with the primary target use on Falcon 9 under SpaceX’s SmallSat Rideshare Program.

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