Arianespace partners with an Australian space tug start-up

TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace is studying the compatibility of its rockets with orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) developed by Space Machines Company, an Australian startup.

The companies signed an agreement on Oct. 30 that lays the groundwork for their cooperation, which could then see them jointly offer services to customers seeking post-launch space logistics.

Optimus-1, SMC’s first 270-kilogram space tug, is scheduled to debut in the second quarter of 2023 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission to low Earth orbit (LEO).

After separating from the rocket, Optimus-1 is to carry Australian customer payloads to their final orbital destinations as it achieves flight qualification.

SMC has not released technical details of Optimus-1, which was originally scheduled to launch in 2022 on a small launch vehicle developed by Gilmour Space, another Australian startup.

Gilmour said on October 10 the first commercial launch of its Eris rocket is scheduled for the first half of 2023.

SMC also develops OTVs for payload transport missions beyond LEO and deep space and for in-orbit services, including refueling.

The startup aims to make its Optimus family of space tugs compatible “with as many launch vehicles as possible around the world.”

These include Arianespace’s medium-range Vega C rocket, which made its maiden flight in July, and its larger launch vehicle Ariane 6, which recently made its debut. postponed until at least the end of 2023.

Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace, said the company is looking for other space tug vendors to support “last mile to orbit delivery” of payloads.

In 2020, Arianespace deployed the first ION Satellite Carrier space tug for Italy D-Orbit with an earlier version of Vega C.

In August, the French launch service provider announced plans to deploy Spaceflight’s Sherpa OTVs from Vega rockets.

Spaceflight said it could launch its first OTV on a Vega in late 2023 or early 2024.

The US-based company has deployed five Sherpa OTVs on four SpaceX missions to date.

OTV’s partnership with Arianespace came about five months after Plans reported by SpaceX end its working relationship with Spaceflight.

OTV applications, including last mile deliveries and hosted payloads, “will generate $100 million in revenue over the next decade,” according to a recent report from BryceTech analysts.

Emerging OTV applications also include in-orbit inspections and debris removal services.

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