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Orbiter SN1 Mission Update

February 16, 2023

On January 3, 2023 at 09:55 ET,  Launcher successfully launched its first spacecraft (Orbiter SN1) to orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 (Transporter-6). Upon successful separation on Launcher’s 24” separation system, the spacecraft powered up and communicated to the ground (command uplink and telemetry downlink) during its first scheduled ground station pass. 

We also communicated with the vehicle for the duration of expected battery life. Unfortunately, after that time period, the vehicle stopped operating as we were not able to generate power from our solar panels due to an orientation control issue caused by a fault in our GPS antenna system. 

While achieving many internal mission objectives in the development of our Orbiter spacecraft and collecting critical data from the successful on-orbit operation, unfortunately, we failed to deploy our customer payloads. 

We would like to sincerely apologize to our customers and their team, partners and end customers. We have been in constant communication with them since launch day, including recovery attempts. We have committed to accommodations beyond our contractual requirements to our customers on this mission.

There were many notable successes to our first mission, including 

  • Building a low-cost, high delta-v capable space tug and hosted platform in just over a year.
  • Qualifying to fly it on SpaceX Rideshare.
  • Successfully integrating it onto Falcon 9 on our first scheduled mission.
  • Successful ascent to space and orbit.
  • Successful separation using our own low-cost 24” separation system.

Fully operational time in orbit during expected battery life, including

  • Two-way S-BAND communication to the ground at every opportunity.
  • Recorded over 30 minutes of telemetry in five successful passes. 
  • Proved our in-house developed ground software for command uplink and telemetry downlink and integration with our ground station network partner.
  • Established and maintained attitude control using low-cost custom cold gas thrusters and integrated third-party reaction wheels.
  • Proved operation of our power bus and battery system.
  • Proved operation of our high-performance and low-cost flight computer.
  • Proved operation of our  in-house developed star camera system.
  • Proved operation of our full flight software, GNC software stack on orbit.

Improvements for our next flight:

We have designed an improved GPS radio and antenna subsystem and are also taking steps in software development to ensure that a repeated GPS failure would not have any fatal impact on our mission.

We also have made the following improvements:

  • Improved GNC software and robust spacecraft safe mode
  • Fully implemented a backup customer spacecraft separation system 
  • Improved Orbiter’s battery charger to allow charging and recovery in nearly all spacecraft anomalous events as well as doubled the battery capacity

We are incredibly grateful that our current partners and customers are continuing to join us on our next flight. With higher confidence from these hard-learned lessons and improvements, we will be back in space this year with Orbiter SN3 in June 2023 (SpaceX Transporter-8) and again in October 2023 (SpaceX Transporter-9).

Orbiter SN1 at the SpaceX Payload Processing Facility in December 2022 (Credit: Launcher/John Kraus)

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