Momentus brings ‘last mile’ delivery to satellites launched on any rocket
An artist’s depiction of a Momentus Vigoride transfer vehicle using satellites in orbit.
A space startup that provides a “last mile delivery” service for spacecraft is continuing its business this year and is becoming an increasingly important player in the growing small satellite market.
Momentus, a Santa Clara, California-based company, signed customer contracts worth $ 40 million this year and announced its latest contract with Dutch small satellite specialist ISILaunch on Thursday. It is the eighth deal of its kind that Momentus unveiled in 2020. The company is offering its orbit transfer services for ISILaunch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch in December.
At the heart of Momentus’ business is Vigoride, a simple vehicle made up of a frame, motor, solar panels, avionics, and a range of satellite providers. The company calls it a transfer vehicle, similar to the delivery truck that would take a package to its final destination after a large cargo plane delivered it to the airport. The Momentus transfer vehicle is especially important for satellites docking a large rocket ride, an increasingly popular industry practice called ridesharing. The company also advertises that its transfer vehicles can be adapted to virtually any missile available on the market.
The Momentus service essentially puts the spacecraft off a rocket and into each spacecraft’s intended final orbit, which Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich said was “extremely cost-effective.”
“Vigoride was specifically designed to use large rockets to deploy satellites in near-earth orbit,” Kokorich told CNBC. “With a single launch, we can fall into multiple orbits and simply change elevation or incline, causing us to drop in multiple places. Basically, the flexibility of a large rocket launch is dramatically increased.”
The company launched its first demonstration mission last year, which proved that the main part of its transfer vehicle – the water plasma engines – was working. It has the first mission for Vigoride this year, currently slated for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December.
Momentus has raised nearly $ 50 million in capital to date from investors such as Prime Movers Lab and Y Combinator. After it was founded in 2017, the company quickly grew to over 60 employees.
While its water plasma engines are key to Momentus’ business, Kokorich insisted that its operation is “not a propulsion company”.
“We are a delivery service,” said Kokorich.
Momentus referred to the market analysis by consulting firm Northern Sky Research, which released a report in November 2019 that contained a very optimistic forecast for the small satellite market. The number of satellites launched annually has risen steadily from 70 satellites in 2010 to 493 satellites in 2019, according to the report – and Northern Sky expects them to reach over 1,000 per year by 2030.
Likewise, the report found that Momentus’ original target market – small satellites launched into orbit, one of the most common targets – went from less than $ 250 million in 2018 to about $ 750 million in 2020 and would grow nearly $ 1.5 billion in 2024, which is why Kokorich plans for Vigoride to be just the first part of an increasingly powerful fleet of transfer vehicles that Momentus is offering.
“By and large, we want to build the infrastructure for industrialization beyond the earth in space,” said Kokorich. “The first step is to develop last mile delivery in space transportation.”
A list of the transfer vehicles planned by Momentus.
“As a next step, we need to deliver similar things to high orbits in our vehicles as well as other activities that can be an extremely unique service,” added Kokorich.
He believes that transportation costs “always lead the way in any industry”. The cost of launching satellites has steadily decreased, which Kokorich attributed to the competitive prices SpaceX introduced with its largely reusable rockets.
“The larger the rocket, the more efficiently you can launch the payload, since the proportion of the rocket’s mass is lower,” explained Kokorich. “And the side of missile reusability as a technology pushes the price of missile launches much lower.”
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the US Air Force’s first GPS III satellite.
The market for Momentus’ transfer vehicles comes into play as the satellites keep getting smaller, but it needs the rocket to get out of orbit into the orbit in which the spacecraft will operate. Kokorich noted that small spacecraft have also created a market for smaller rockets such as those from Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, Astra and Relativitiy.
“This service is really valuable, but it is like a private jet when you have to fly very fast. The small missiles will forever be more expensive than large missiles,” said Kokorich.
Momentus is therefore focusing on those ridesharing customers who are looking for a cheap way to get into orbit but need a boost to get to their exact destination.
“It has essentially created the need for a delivery over the last mile so that[kleineSatellitengroßeRaketenverwendenkönnenEsersetztnichtinallenFällenkleineRaketenweilmanmanchmalschnellfliegenmussAberwennmannichtschnellfliegenmusswennSiemüssennurIhreDatenbereitstellenmitVigoridekönnenSiediesvielbilligertun”sagteKokorich[smallsatellitescanusebigrocketsItwillnotsubstituteinallcasessmallrocketsbecausesometimesyouneedtoflyfastButifyoudon’tneedtoflyfastifyoujustneedtodeployyourstuffyoucandothismuchcheaperwithVigoride”Kokorichsaid[kleineSatellitengroßeRaketenverwendenkönnenEsersetztnichtinallenFällenkleineRaketenweilmanmanchmalschnellfliegenmussAberwennmannichtschnellfliegenmusswennSiemüssennurIhreDatenbereitstellenmitVigoridekönnenSiediesvielbilligertun”sagteKokorich[smallsatellitescanusebigrocketsItwillnotsubstituteinallcasessmallrocketsbecausesometimesyouneedtoflyfastButifyoudon’tneedtoflyfastifyoujustneedtodeployyourstuffyoucandothismuchcheaperwithVigoride”Kokorichsaid
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