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Launcher’s Orbiter SN3 fails after separating from SpaceX Transporter-8

The next flight for the new Orbiter SN5 delivery vehicle is planned for February 2024

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Launcher’s Orbiter SN3 mission launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 (Transporter-8) on June 12th, 2023. Orbiter SN3 successfully separated using Launcher’s 24” separation system. Shortly after separation, Launcher successfully communicated (both command uplink and telemetry downlink) with the vehicle. Unfortunately, the initial set of telemetry received indicated that the vehicle was experiencing an anomaly in which a high rate of rotation was imparted on the vehicle from its onboard attitude control system.

Additionally, Orbiter’s batteries were not properly charging due to non-optimal sun-pointing and there was a growing risk of not being able to contact the vehicle on later ground station passes. Within minutes, the Launcher mission operations team assessed the initial data provided and decided to deploy the payloads earlier than scheduled, rather than risk non-deployment.  This decision was also made in light of the fact that Orbiter has a separate backup customer spacecraft separation system on board, but given the small chance of improving the state of the vehicle, the operations team decided to command deployment of the spacecraft early.

Upon indication of deployment of all customers including the successful deployment of the CubeSats from TRL11’s deployer, the Launcher team immediately contacted all customer spacecraft teams and delivered the necessary information to contact the separated spacecraft.

All three customers confirmed contact with their spacecraft during their respective first ground station passes. Unfortunately, for our primary customer deployed, Starfish Space’s Otter Pup spacecraft, we imparted a large initial amount of rotation. We continue to assist the Starfish team with data to help them characterize the state of the spacecraft at the time of deployment.

Launcher's Orbiter SN3 fails after separating from SpaceX Transporter-8. New Orbiter SN5 delivery vehicle is planned for February 2024
Orbiter SN3 separating from SpaceX Transporter-8

After ensuring Orbiter’s deployed customers had a chance to start their respective missions, Launcher then turned its attention to preserving the life of Orbiter SN3. Launcher commanded the shutdown of all non-critical vehicle systems in an attempt to put the vehicle in a net power-positive state. The vehicle complied but remained slightly power negative.

The Launcher team was able to communicate with Orbiter SN3 for six more ground station passes and download the full set of mission telemetry. Unfortunately, the state of charge of the spacecraft slowly decreased and contact with Orbiter SN3 was eventually lost. The Launcher mission operations team continues to attempt contact with the vehicle in the event of a recovery.

“While achieving many mission objectives and improvements from our first Orbiter mission, unfortunately, we will not be able to serve as a docking target for Starfish Space’s Otter Pup,” the company said in an official statement. “We would like to sincerely apologize to our customers and their teams, partners and end customers for this mission degradation.

“Upon initial evaluation of the received data, we have identified the likely root cause. The anomaly appears to be software in nature. We have begun the implementation of corrective action to ensure this anomaly does not occur again on future missions and that the vehicle is more robust to this type of error.

“At Launcher, we continue to be transparent with our current and future customers on the performance of Orbiter. We are grateful that our current partners and customers are continuing to join us on our next flight with Orbiter SN5 in February 2024 (SpaceX Transporter-10) and two more flights in 2024.”

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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