Statement From Spaceflight Inc.
The SpaceX Rideshare Team sent an email last Friday morning to an undisclosed list of rideshare customers and that email said:
“For awareness, we will no longer be flying or working with Spaceflight Industries after currently manifested missions. We look forward to reliably launching all customers currently on manifest and growing our relationships with new operators as well.”
In an effort to provide transparency to our customers and the industry, we wanted to share a few additional thoughts and comments.
We were genuinely surprised to learn of SpaceX’s decision. We are continuing to reach out to SpaceX in an attempt to discuss their position, but haven’t heard back yet.
Curt Blake, Spaceflight president and CEO, said, “We are surprised and disappointed by SpaceX’s decision. We will continue to work with them on our current missions as planned, and hope to work with SpaceX again in the future. We are simultaneously accelerating alternate launch options via our large network of launch providers to serve our customers’ launch needs, including more Sherpa missions. Flexibility has always been a foundational element of our strategy, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to deliver a safe and reliable launch experience for all. It’s been extremely encouraging to hear from so many of our customers in support of our launch and in-space transportation services.”
If you’re wondering about the January Transporter-3 mission, the decision to remove the Sherpa-LTC1 vehicle, and how that may have played into SpaceX’s decision, here’s some background:
We reported in late December that, due to an issue with the propulsion system onboard our Sherpa-LTC1, we wouldn’t be flying it on the mission. The root cause analysis determined that a relief event occurred on the oxidizer circuit, which actuated per design. Out of utmost concern, Spaceflight decided not to fly the Sherpa vehicle. All affected customers were re-manifested within weeks and have already flown on alternative launches or are scheduled to fly in the next two months.
The key takeaway is Spaceflight has since worked with the vendor to address the root cause and has subsequently received approval from SpaceX to fly the system on a mission scheduled for later this year. More to come about that mission, but needless to say, we’re confident in our ability, along with our vendor partners, to fly our Sherpa product line.
As for the upcoming April Transporter-4 mission, here’s a bit more: About a week ago, SpaceX informed us that our Sherpa vehicle would not fly on the Transporter-4 mission due to concerns about the test levels for customer spacecraft installed on Sherpa. Some have speculated that Sherpa failed a vibration test, and that is not the case. The vibration test was 100% successful, with no failures observed with Sherpa post-test. Sherpa itself was subjected to all expected launch environments with industry standard factors. Spaceflight and SpaceX continued to discuss analysis and test products up until Spaceflight was informed that SpaceX would not fly the vehicle, which was the day of final integration to the SpaceX vehicle.
As soon as Spaceflight was made aware of these requests/concerns about the analysis and test results of Sherpa and its customer payloads, we immediately worked to address them with SpaceX. Despite our best efforts, SpaceX chose not to fly the Sherpa vehicle until the analysis and test approaches could be better understood. We will continue to work with SpaceX to understand their decision and address any concerns for future missions.
Our teams immediately began working to rebook all of the affected spacecraft. We’re pleased to report that, within days, all were re-manifested: several will continue to fly on this mission, while the others have been rebooked on alternative launches.
What’s this all mean?
First and foremost, we’re continuing to work with the SpaceX mission management and technical teams on a daily basis to ensure our current and upcoming missions are successful.
We have flown several Sherpa vehicles on SpaceX Transporter missions in the past year, delivering more than 50 customer payloads successfully on-orbit. Mission assurance is the foundation of our services and our unparalleled commitment to payload safety has enabled us to successfully execute many industry firsts and complex configurations. In fact, Sherpa-LTE1 which launched in June 2021 on Transporter-2, continues to operate on orbit showcasing Spaceflight’s commitment to mission assurance and engineering acumen.
Our Sherpa vehicles are designed to be operable with many different launch vehicles. We’re proud of the work that our teams and our partners are doing to further develop our Sherpa program, and are looking forward to many upcoming missions.