SpaceX will launch a group of small satellites in orbit with the Falcon 9 rocket. On board the mission will also be the first officially launched space tug, a transport equipment that has the responsibility to maneuver the mini satellites, which are not always left in proper orbit in “shared releases”.

These carriers must carry satellites from where they are left by the rockets to the most appropriate location and clear Earth’s orbit, removing those no longer used. The transaction will cost $ 2.25 million (about $ 9.28 million at today’s price) and is included in an initiative called the SmallSat Rideshare Program.

In general, miniaturized satellites are launched with larger and more expensive equipment, which dictates launch dates and cargo destination; With this, delays or orbit changes of the main instruments bring consequences to the accompanying ones. This paradigm began to change from the emergence of small rocket shares intended to carry only mini-satellites, such as SpaceX.

Thus, the devices can travel on any rocket, reaching any generic point and then relocating. In addition to serving as connecting transports, tugboats could reduce space debris by clearing Earth’s orbit, removing unused satellites and keeping them still useful for longer orbits.

The first tug

Momentus will be one of the first companies to experience this new system. Having announced that its tugboat will be launched aboard SpaceX’s first SmallSat Rideshare mission with Falcon 9. With the responsibility of sending some customers to the correct destinations in space. The company’s device, called Vigoride, is capable of carrying multiple small satellites for multiple orbits and is powered by a water plasma engine.

Vigoride’s propulsion was developed based on the use of energy generated by solar panels that allow the vehicle to produce microwaves that heat water to the sun’s surface temperature, which produces a plasma and propels the tug forward. The prototype passed a test 1 month ago and already has 2 more flights planned. The’company hopes to make future tugs reusable, able to absorb more water when they become dehydrated.

The first Falcon 9 and Momentus tugboat shared flight is scheduled for late 2020 or early 2021. According to the SpaceX website, the company itself is promising “regular shared rocket missions”.