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Sherpa space tug failing

October 7, 2022

By Chris Forrester

Spaceflight’s Sherpa-LTC2 orbital transfer vehicle, launched just a month ago on September 4th, is struggling in orbit. It seems the rescue tug’s on-board thrusters may be the problem.

A SpaceX rocket successfully launched the tug to an initial orbit of 310 kms altitude but the plan was to use its on-board chemical thrusters to get the craft to about 1000 kms altitude.

This is the company’s fifth craft. The Sherpa-LTC2 (which is the first chemical-powered version) and already had a ‘target’ satellite to rescue.

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Center for Astrophysics, reports that the satellite has not yet started its orbit raising process, and natural orbital decay has reduced its height by some 15 kms since launch. He cautions that unless the orbit raising starts “soon” then inevitable re-entry will happen.

The US Space Force tracking shows that the tug is at 283-296 kms.

A spokesperson for Spaceflight reportedly said that the company was working through its commissioning process for the tug, and that the process was somewhat fluid. “We expect we’ll get to the burn when the commissioning phase is complete and we’ll share more at that time.”

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