Meet Plasmos’ SpaceTruck

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Plasmos, an American deep tech space startup founded in 2021, recently introduced its space tug that will be capable of delivering spacecraft into any low Earth orbit at an affordable price, according to the company. 

Plasmos’ reusable third stage will deliver satellites launched into space to their final orbit. The dual mode propulsion system-powered SpaceTruck combines elements of chemical and electric propulsion, and is a maneuverable system capable of reaching orbits of up to 1400 km in altitude. 

The space tug is available in two different configurations currently. The first configuration allows for the delivery of one 400-kilogram satellite, while the second is able to deliver four 75-kilogram satellites in the outer payload areas, and a six-kilogram payload in a pressurized capsule that could also return to Earth if needed. The company also offers in-space manufacturing, last-mile delivery, on-orbit servicing, point to point transportation as well as active debris removal.

SpaceTruck’s ESPA (Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Secondary Payload Adapter) system allows for easy integration with various launch providers, thus Plasmos can ensure the best price and the fastest launches, the company said. The startup is planning to launch the technology demonstration of its 3D-printed SpaceTruck in January next year.

A space tug (also called a space tugboat or orbital tug) is a spacecraft designed to move other spacecraft in space. It can be used for various tasks, such as moving satellites into their operational orbits, retrieving or deorbiting space debris, while refueling and servicing other spacecraft. Space tugs typically have their own propulsion system and can be operated remotely or autonomously. These spacecraft could play an important role in future space activities, including space exploration and space tourism.

Visit of NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe to ESA’s test facilities where he was shown the ATV spacecraft model. Credit: ESA / Anneke van der Geest

Space tugs are not new to space. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) serves as a cargo re-supply ship, capable of carrying 7.5 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Space startup Skyrora’s maneuverable Space Tug will allow multiple payloads to be deployed into their orbits during a launch. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is also offering satellite servicing via its MRV (Mission Robotic Vehicle). Other commercial companies, such as Momentus Space are also working on similar technologies.

Do we need more companies to join the space tug manufacturing and operating mission or are these few agencies and businesses enough? Can we ensure a sustainable space environment and long-term sustainable human presence on the moon and Mars with only a few spacecraft with such capabilities?

Featured image: SpaceTruck. Credit: Plasmos

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