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Spaceflight SHERPA
Spaceflight’s SHERPA carrier is designed to deploy scores of satellites. (Spaceflight Illustration)

For more than a year, Seattle-based Spaceflight has been waiting to launch an array of 89 miniaturized satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and deploy them in orbit from its innovative SHERPA carrier.

Now the launch logistics company isn’t waiting any longer.

All 89 satellites have been rebooked due to schedule concerns, Spaceflight’s president, Curt Blake, reported today in a blog posting.

“We found each of our customers an alternative launch that was within the same time frame,” Blake wrote. “It took a huge effort, but within two weeks, the team hustled to have all customers who wanted to be rebooked confirmed on other launches!”

The SHERPA carrier had been slated as a secondary payload on the launch of Taiwan’s Formosat-5 satellite. It was put on SpaceX’s manifest since 2015, but the launch has been repeatedly delayed, in part due to the Falcon 9 rocket mishaps that occurred in mid-2015 and last September.

Spaceflight was anticipating that the launch would finally take place around May or June, but Blake said SpaceX “recently communicated their 2017 manifest, and the impact on the Formosat-5 mission is significant.”

“We learned our launch would occur potentially much later than expected,” he said. By some accounts, the Formosat-5 mission has been shifted into 2018. That’s what led Spaceflight to look at alternatives.

Neither Blake nor Jodi Sorensen, a spokeswoman for Spaceflight Industries, laid out the details of the schedule shifts. Sorensen told GeekWire that the arrangements with SpaceX were still being worked out.

The payloads that had been scheduled for deployment from the SHERPA carrier include Planetary Resources’ Arkyd 6 satellite, which is designed to test a midwave-infrared imaging system; and the Pathfinder-2 satellite, an Earth-observing spacecraft that serves as a prototype for Spaceflight Industries’ BlackSky constellation.

Spaceflight’s dedicated-rideshare launch on a different Falcon 9 is unaffected by the SHERPA shift.

SpaceX isn’t the only launch provider that Spaceflight works with. In the past, the company has facilitated the placement of payloads on India’s PSLV rockets, Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule, and Russian rockets as well.

This week, Blake called on the Trump administration to refrain from limiting the ability to book U.S. payloads onto foreign launch vehicles.

“Quite simply, there are not enough U.S. launches to meet the demands of the ever-growing number of
smallsat companies,” Blake wrote in an op-ed column for SatMagazine.

The op-ed was motivated by concern that President Donald Trump’s “America First” economic policies might restrict the options for launching small satellites. As it is, U.S. commercial payload providers have to get waivers from the federal government to have their satellites launched on Indian rockets.

“We ask the current administration to allow these international launch options that are critical to the smallsat industry and to support the efforts and policies that expand — not restrict — access to space,” Blake wrote. “Limiting launch options will only hinder or halt the economic growth of this burgeoning American industry.”

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