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When “the last mile” is up in the sky

The Sherpa FX to transfer satellites from a rocket to their orbital position. Image credit: Spaceflight

The name has been taken from those Nepalese hard guys that can transport heavy loads on their shoulder up the slopes of mountains in Nepal, an essential component in any 8000 expeditions.

Here the intended job is similar: pick up a payload from a low space orbit, the one reached by a rocket, and put it onto the right orbit where it is supposed to operate.

The Sherpa FX tug is a new version of the space tug by Spaceflight, a company that is providing space services to private companies. As we are moving towards the creation of satellites constellation consisting of thousands of satellites, finding effective and economic ways to put those satellites in their service orbit has become a must. Indeed, it is much more effective to use a rocket full of satellites to bring them into a low Earth orbit and then give the job of placing each of them to the appropriate position to a second vehicles.

The Sherpa FX tug, also known as OTV – Orbital Transfer Vehicle- has an electric propulsion (based on Hall effect)  that can create a ∂V of 6 km per second (it can speed up an object in a low orbit increasing its velocity up to 6km per second). This additional velocity moves the object up to a higher orbit (the velocity is graded to reach the exact orbit required and the time the propulsion starts depend on the place you want that object to have in that higher orbit).

The new Sherpa will enter service in mid 2021. It will be an essential component in the creation of satellites constellations in this decade, including the ones formed by cubesat.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.