TAMPA, Fla. — Starfish Space said Nov. 9 that it plans to conduct its first satellite docking test using electric propulsion next fall, when the Otter Pup demonstrator attempts to rendezvous with another spacecraft in low Earth orbit.
An orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) from Launcher, a small rocket company, aims to drop the demonstrator at an initial altitude after riding together on a Falcon 9 over the summer. The OTV will also serve as a link target.
Kent, Washington-based Starfish said the OTV and Otter Pup secured a launch on SpaceX’s Transporter 8 mission.
Exotrail, which also develops OTVs, is providing the electric propulsion thruster that Otter Pup will use for a mission that aims to demonstrate key technologies for Starfish’s on-orbit servicing operation.
Starfish says that using electric propulsion, rather than chemical-based alternatives, will allow it to produce servers that cheaper and smaller from the service spacecraft currently in orbit by Northrop Grumman and Astroscale.
“We’re trying to land a satellite at 5 percent the cost of any similar mission in history,” said Starfish co-founder Trevor Bennett.
Astro Digital is building the chassis for Otter Pup, which is about the size of a microwave oven, and Redwire is providing the Argus camera hardware it will use for navigation.
The mission also aims to demonstrate Starfish’s rendezvous, proximity and docking (RPOD) technologies, including software to determine the relative position of a docking target and to plan trajectories.
The Starfish flight tested the RPOD software during Orbit Fab’s spacecraft resupply demonstration mission last year in low earth orbit.
Starfish co-founder Austin Link said this software is capable of transporting the Otter Pup from several kilometers away for attachment without human assistance.
However, “with enough caution for this mission, we have several windows of time where people can decide we’re not comfortable and we can stop the trajectory sequence,” he added via email.
After separating from the OTV, the Otter Pup is set to re-lock with an electrostatic capture mechanism that Starfish calls the Nautilus, before detaching and retreating to a safe distance to conduct further tests.
Honeybee Robotics supported Nautilus’ mechanical design.
Link said the venture is still deciding where to connect with OTV.
“We won’t dock exactly where we’ve been released from because there’s a separation ring at that point, but there are a couple of locations nearby,” he said.
If the demonstration is successful, Starfish aims to develop a slightly larger Otter satellite servicing vehicle — somewhere between the size of a mini-fridge and an oven — that could extend the life of geostationary satellites in addition to dumping debris.
The venture raised $7 million last year from early-stage investors to accelerate its plans.