RBC Signals strikes deal to hook up ground stations with Spaceflight Inc.’s orbital tugs

·2 min read
Sherpa-LTE1 in orbit
Artwork shows the Sherpa-LTE1 orbital tug firing up its propulsion system. (Spaceflight Inc. Illustration)

Two Seattle-area space companies have forged an alliance to facilitate space-to-ground communications for orbital transfer vehicles.

Under the terms of a ground station service agreement, Redmond, Wash.-based RBC Signals will support ground-based communications for multiple missions involving Seattle-based Spaceflight Inc.’s Sherpa orbital tugs.

The deal came into play during the successful deployment of satellites from Spaceflight’s Sherpa-LTE1 transfer vehicle, which was sent into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in June.

“We were thrilled to support Spaceflight’s important mission in testing their Sherpa-LTE1 for increased capabilities for future missions,” RBC Signals CEO Christopher Richins said today in a news release. “We look forward to supporting and scaling with Spaceflight and their customers via our global ground network as Spaceflight continues to provide increasing options and capabilities for rideshare to space.”

In different ways, RBC Signals and Spaceflight Inc. both take advantage of other people’s space infrastructure. Spaceflight Inc. arranges for satellites to share rides on rockets launched by SpaceX, Rocket Lab and other launch providers. Meanwhile, RBC Signals makes use of company-owned as well as partner-owned antennas to provide communication and data processing services on the ground.

RBC Signals’ network relies on more than 80 antennas in more than 50 locations around the globe. According to documents filed with the FCC in advance of June’s Transporter-2 launch, RBC Signals provided communication links for Spaceflight Inc. through ground stations in New York and Alaska.

Last month, Spaceflight reported 100% mission success for the two Sherpa spacecraft that went into orbit in June. Between them, Sherpa-LTE1 and Sherpa-FX2 deployed 35 satellites and activated a hosted payload. During the mission, Sherpa-LTE1 successfully operated its electric propulsion system for the first time in space.

Spaceflight was able to schedule access to ground stations seamlessly through ROSS, RBC Signals’ interface for planning and scheduling antenna time. “The stability of the RBC Signals ground station network gave us the confidence to execute the commands to Sherpa-LTE1 for propulsion and maneuvering,” said Phil Bracken, Spaceflight’s vice president of engineering.

Spaceflight is planning to launch another type of orbital transfer vehicle, Sherpa-LTC, as one of the payloads on SpaceX’s Transporter-3 mission. Transporter-3 is scheduled for launch no earlier than December.

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