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Momentus Lands Caltech Mission for its New Hosted Payload Service

By Rachel Jewett | December 15, 2020

A rendering of Momentus’ Vigoride in-space shuttle. Photo: Momentus

Momentus has a contract for its second customer on its hosted payload service, and will host a payload from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), called SSPD-1 at the end of next year. SSPD-1, which will demonstrate a wireless power transmission and a new deployable structure, is set to launch on Momentus’ Vigoride orbital transfer vehicle in December of 2021, and operate onboard the vehicle for about six months.

The hosted payload service is a new offering from Momentus, which is gearing up for the first flight of its orbital transfer vehicle, Vigoride, on SpaceX’s upcoming rideshare mission in 2021. 

The Caltech mission follows a Lockheed Martin mission, which will be Momentus’ first hosted payload customer. Lockheed Martin’s cryogenic fluid management demo — part of NASA’s Tipping Point program — will be hosted on a Momentus Vigoride, the company announced in October. 

Dawn Harms, Momentus chief revenue officer, said in a recent interview with Via Satellite that the Vigoride vehicle will “drop off” its other small satellite customers on board before the SSPD-1 payload commences its mission. 

“We would conduct all of our shuttle mission customer drop offs first, and then they would remain on our Vigoride and conduct their longer term mission. We provide the power, we provide the data link — whatever they need to perform the mission,” Harms said. 

Harms said that the hosted payload, or Satellite-as-a-Service, is a market that is picking up for the company, and Momentus is in talks with other customers for the service. The service is intended to get technology demonstrations to space without the cost to the customer of designing, building, launching, and operating a dedicated smallsat. 

This plays into the market of services for smallsats that go beyond rideshare, to hosted payload and orbital transfer vehicles, like Momentus’ Vigoride and planned future iterations. Spaceflight and Rocket Lab are rolling out their own in-orbit transfer capabilities, but Harms says Momentus’ water plasma propulsion technology is what sets the company’s offering apart. 

“The way that the others are approaching it is by using existing technologies that were used for other applications that are not ideal. We started with a clean sheet of paper, and designed and built a propulsion system that really addressed the market,” she said. “And water has no hazardous components to it, [which] make it very easy to manufacture, ship, and store. I think we definitely put the right technology in this.” 

Hosted payload and orbital transfer vehicles are only the beginning of Momentus’ plans as it looks to be the go-to company for in-space infrastructure. To fund its bold plans, Momentus recently announced it plans to go public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Stable Road Acquisition Corp. The transaction is expected to close in early 2021. 

“We have multiple technologies on our road map that get us to everything that can be used for infrastructure in space, it’s kind of a melting pot of capabilities,” Harms said. “We’ll be able to do repair and refueling, but we also are looking at data centers in space — all of the things that one might need to sustain an ecosystem in space.”