Momentus orbital shuttle service to launch on Relativity Space 3D-printed rocket

Momentus Vigoride provides final push to specific orbits


The 3D rocket printing company set to begin launching from Cape Canaveral in the next few years has partnered up with another venture-backed space company that will provide the extra boost satellites need to reach their final destination beyond low-Earth orbit.

California-based Relativity Space is currently preparing Launch Complex 16 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to begin launching its fully 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket.

On Wednesday, Relativity Space announced it has entered a launch services agreement with Momentus --  the company provides in-space ferry services for spacecraft -- to launch Momentus customers for up to six launches.

A rendering of Relativity's 3D rocket printing facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Image: Relativity Space)
A rendering of Relativity's 3D rocket printing facility at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Image: Relativity Space)

Laura Lariu, general counsel for Relativity Space, said this partnership furthers the company's goals to expand access to space and opens the Terran 1 up to a wider market of spacecraft.

"Previously, it was the larger companies that had access to a specific orbit. But we're changing all of that and leveling the playing field by partnering with Momentus," Lariu told News 6. "By partnering with them, we're enabling greater access to space, and are able to build a future of humanity and space even faster."

[MORE SPACE NEWS: A space startup with off-planet vision: 3D printing rockets on Mars]

Under the agreement, Momentus will complete a satellite's trip to geosynchronous orbit—more than 22,000 miles above Earth—after the spacecraft separates from the Terran 1 rocket. The agreement includes the option for five more launches.​​​ The first could happen sometime in 2021, according to Relativity.

Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich said the shuttle's propulsion fuel is what sets their technology apart.
The orbital shuttle is powered by a water plasma propulsion system that pushes satellites from one orbit to another. Kokorich explained to WKMG News 6 that the Vigoride orbital shuttles are fueled by a new propulsion system using water.

The water is heated up to extremely high temperatures using solar energy, hotter than the surface of the sun, says Kokorich. The result is a super-heated gas to create thrust for the orbital shuttle to deliver spacecraft into various orbits.

"Why is this really good? Because you can use water, and water, it's extremely convenient, it's cheap, it's easy to store without pressure, it's safe," Kokorich said, adding its 10 times less expensive than fuel for chemical or electrical propulsion systems.

"It's much more efficient," he said. "We need much less propellant."

The company offers three ride options for satellites that can be used for ride-sharing payloads. The Vigoride Extended can push spacecraft up to 300 kg to GTO or up to 100 kg to lunar orbit and beyond, according to the company's website.

"They offer in-space shuttle services, with a precision to bring satellites to more specific orbit like deep space, lunar and geosynchronous orbit," Lariu said. "We are able to launch their satellite customers using our Terran 1 rocket, and they are able to then take those satellites to these more specific precise orbits."

In July Momentus successfully tested its prototype shuttle in space. The test flight was called El Camino Real, after the 600-mile Spanish-built road that led to the settlement of California.

Momentus CTO Joel Sercel wrote in January that every first mission for the company "will be named after the first road, bridge, or waterway that humanity built in a given area to aid transportation to enable commerce or settlement."

Momentus also signed on in August to SpaceX's first small satellite ride-sharing mission. The Vigoride orbital shuttle will complete custom orbits for multiple customer satellites, according to SpaceX.

About the Author: