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Spaceflight SHERPA
Spaceflight’s SHERPA carrier is capable of deploying scores of satellites. (Spaceflight Illustration)

Seattle-based Spaceflight says it’s been awarded its first contract for launch and integration services from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The three-year deal is potentially worth $5.48 million.

The NASA contract calls for Spaceflight, a business unit of Spaceflight Industries, to provide launch services for up to 24 payloads in 2018 with options for up to 24 more payloads in 2019 and in 2020.

These would be what NASA calls U-class payloads, based on the 4-inch-square (10-centimeter-square) Cubesat standard for nanosatellites. They’re typically built by universities and nonprofit organizations, using commercial off-the-shelf components, to fly as secondary payloads.

Such satellites are becoming increasingly capable, thanks the miniaturization of space hardware. They can perform tasks ranging from technology testing to Earth observation to space science. Examples include the PhoneSat spacecraft that hitched a ride into orbit aboard an Orbital ATK Antares rocket with Spaceflight’s assistance in 2012.

SSO-A stack
Spaceflight’s SSO-A payload stack undergoes testing at the company’s integration facility in Auburn, Wash. (Spaceflight Photo)

“We’re pleased to work with NASA on these Cubesat missions, as it further validates our rideshare business model of providing frequent, cost-effective access to space,” Spaceflight President Curt Blake said today in a news release. “Not only can commercial entities benefit from this new shared-space economy, but governmental agencies are quickly realizing the economies of it as well.”

Spaceflight has handled the logistics for scores of ride-along payloads, launched by rockets ranging from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Orbital ATK’s Antares to India’s PSLV. The company is developing satellite deployment hardware such as its SHERPA Cubesat dispenser and SSO-A payload stack for an upcoming Falcon 9 dedicated rideshare mission.

The NASA contract is structured in terms of the 4-inch-square Cubesat units. Spaceflight would handle 24 units, or 24U, in 2018. The options apply to 24U in 2019 and another 24U in 2020.

Those 24 units could cover 24 satellites of a 1U size, but the batch is more likely to include multiple-unit satellites, such as the six-unit Arkyd 6 satellite that Redmond, Wash.-based Planetary Resources has readied for an orbital test. Four satellites of that size (that is, 4 times 6U) would take up all of Spaceflight’s contractual capacity for the year.

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