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Space Shorts: German rocket company will launch orbital tugs for Spaceflight Inc.

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An artist’s concept shows Rocket Factory Augsburg’s launch vehicle in flight. (RFA Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc. and Rocket Factory Augsburg, a German launch startup, say they’ve signed a memorandum of understanding that calls for Spaceflight’s Sherpa orbital transfer vehicles to ride on the RFA One rocket.

In an announcement made today at the International Astronautical Congress in Paris, the companies said they’re targeting mid-2024 for their first launch.

Spaceflight Inc. handles pre-launch logistics and arranges for payloads to be sent into orbit on other companies’ launch vehicles. Rocket Factory Augsburg, or RFA, joins a list of Spaceflight launch providers that also includes SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Northrop Grumman and Europe’s Arianespace consortium.

RFA, plans to launch its three-stage, 100-foot-tall rocket from facilities in French Guiana, Britain and other locales, starting in 2023. Eventually, RFA intends to conduct launches on a weekly basis.

“Having many different launch options across different price points, orbital destinations and facility locations are all very important to our savvy spacecraft developer customers,” Spaceflight CEO Curt Blake said in a news release.

Spaceflight’s Sherpa OTVs, also known as space tugs, are stand-alone spacecraft that can be deployed from their primary launch vehicles — and then send ride-along payloads into a variety of orbits. This month, SpaceX sent a Sherpa tug into orbit to test telecommunications technologies for Boeing’s Varuna program.

Other announcements from the IAC Paris meeting and elsewhere:

  • Astrobotic says it will deploy and demonstrate LunaGrid, a commercial power-generating system designed for use on the moon’s surface, starting as early as 2026. With support from NASA, the Pittsburgh-based company is targeting 2028 for the first operational LunaGrid at the moon’s south pole. Power generated by solar arrays would be channeled to tethered rovers, which could charge up other devices on the lunar surface wirelessly. Seattle-based WiBotic has partnered with Astrobotic to work on wireless charging systems.
  • Hilton has signed on to design astronaut facilities for the commercial space station that’s being developed by Voyager Space Holdings and Lockheed Martin, CNBC reports. In addition to designing hospitality suites and sleeping quarters, Hilton will reportedly work with Voyager to examine opportunities for marketing the Starlab space station and astronaut experiences. Starlab is one of three commercial space station projects that won NASA’s support last year. Two other projects are led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Sierra Space; and by Northrop Grumman and Dynetics. In addition, Axiom Space is working on a commercial space module under a separate deal with NASA.
  • Lynk Global has received authorization from the Federal Communications Commission for its direct satellite-to-phone data service. The FCC’s go-ahead advances Lynk’s plan to ramp up commercial operations in partnership with mobile operators. The Virginia-based venture is one of several companies setting up hybrid satellite-cellular networks; other companies include Apple and Globalstar as well as T-Mobile and SpaceX.

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