Arianespace is partnering with Australian space tug startup

Arianespace is partnering with Australian space tug startup

TAMPA, Fla. — Arianespace is investigating the compatibility of its rockets with orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) being developed by the Space Machines Company, an Australian startup.

The companies signed an agreement on October 30 that lays the groundwork for their collaboration, which could later see them jointly offer services to customers looking for logistics in the post-launch space.

Optimus-1, SMC’s first 270 kg space tug, is set to debut in the second quarter of 2023 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 mission to low Earth orbit (LEO).

After separation from the rocket, Optimus-1 is set to carry Australian customer payloads to their final orbital destinations as it becomes flight certified.

SMC did not release technical details about Optimus-1, which was originally slated to launch in 2022 on a small launch vehicle being developed by Gilmour Space, another Australian startup.

Gilmour said on Oct 10 the first commercial launch of the Eris rocket is planned for the first half of 2023.

SMC is also developing OTVs for payload transport missions beyond LEO and deep space and for on-orbit services, including refueling.

The startup aims to make the Optimus family of space tugs compatible “with as many launchers around the world as possible.”

These include Arianespace’s medium-lift Vega C rocket that made its maiden flight in July and the larger Ariane 6 launch vehicle, which recently debuted delayed until at least late 2023.

Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace, said the company is looking to other space tug providers to support “payload delivery from the last mile to orbit.”

In 2020, Arianespace deployed the first space shuttle ION Satellite Carrier for Italy’s D-Orbit with an earlier iteration of Vega C.

In August, the French launch service provider announced plans to deploy Spaceflight’s Sherpa OTVs from Vega rockets.

Spaceflight said it could launch its first OTV to Vega around late 2023 or early 2024.

The US-based company has deployed five Sherpa OTVs to date on four SpaceX missions.

The OTV partnership with Arianespace came about five months later SpaceX flagged plans to phase out its partnership with Spaceflight.

OTV applications, including last-mile deliveries and hosted payloads, will “generate millions of dollars in revenue over the next decade,” according to a recent BryceTech analyst report.

Emerging OTV applications also include on-track inspections and debris removal services.

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