Momentus’ recently launched space tug has encountered problems in orbit.
The Vigoride spacecraft, built by California-based company Momentus, was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 25, along with dozens of other payloads riding to Earth orbit on a mission called Transporter 5†
It is Vigoride’s first spaceflight and serves primarily as a demonstration mission, although the tug has nine small satellites on board to deploy to three different customers. according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab)† (Vigoride’s main intended job is to transport customer payloads to specific orbital locations after launch.)
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However, two days after launch, moment announced that Vigoride had encountered “some initial anomalies”.
“We are using an unplanned frequency as we process this and are requesting a Special Temporary Authority (STA) from the FCC to address that to return the vehicle to its nominal configuration,” company representatives wrote in an update (opens in new tab), referring to the US Federal Communications Commission. “Our engineering and operations team is working to address the anomalies.”
The use of that unplanned frequency was apparently necessary because Vigoride’s communications system was mistuned. The space tug initially operated at an uplink frequency of 2,067.5 megahertz and a downlink frequency of 8,250 megahertz, both of which are slightly outside its FCC-licensed bands (2,075 megahertz and 8,200 megahertz, respectively), SpaceNews reported, citing a recent filing from the company. .
Momentus has not specified the nature of the anomalies it is trying to resolve. But John Rood, the company’s CEO, said during a June 1 webinar that the problems are not related to Vigoride’s primary propulsion system, which had not been tested at the time, according to SpaceNews.
That propulsion system uses microwave electrothermal thrusters (METs), which heat propellant using microwave energy. In Vigoride, this propellant is water, which is then expelled from a nozzle to create thrust.
“The MET can transfer a very large amount of energy into a small amount of propellant and turn it into a hot plasma — reaching about half the temperature of the sun’s surface,” Momentus wrote in a description of the thrusters (opens in new tab)† “This technology is well suited for use in Vigoride – and future vehicles that Momentus is developing.”
Momentus’ early efforts to deal with the Vigoride anomalies have apparently met with some success. On May 31, the company announced: in another update (opens in new tab) that the tug had managed to deploy two satellites.
Mike Wall is the author of “Outside (opens in new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab)† follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on facebook (opens in new tab)†