Flight Works is proposing to expand its micropump-fed propulsion technology to the development and demonstration of a low cost, compact, high performance lunar transfer stage designed for small launchers like Rocket Lab’s Electron and Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One. With a total wet mass around 230 kg, the transfer stage is designed to provide high-thrust, high delta-V capabilities of over 3 km/s to one or more nanosat payloads weighing more than 30 kg. It will be to propel small spacecraft (CubeSat or nanosat) from Low Earth Orbit on to Trans Lunar Injection trajectories. The system can either stay attached to the small primary payload for long term mission operations, or deploy the latter at its destined lunar orbit.
This proposed effort builds on the extensive propulsion technology developed at Flight Works in the area of micro-pump-fed propulsion systems, combined with space system-level know-how of its principals, to provide a stage with unique benefits. These include compact, conformal low-pressure tanks/stage minimizing range safety operations and costs; high thrust for rapid, efficient transfer (compared with electric propulsion systems which have to be launched at higher orbits to avoid low altitude drag and which can require months to reach the targeted orbit); minimized size provided by a high performance propulsion system; and attitude control system during the delta-V maneuver which can ride along for cislunar operations.
With a stage designed to provide over 3 km/s delta-V to a nanosat payload, it can be used for NASA lunar and interplanetary applications. These include missions similar to the NASA Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE), or follow-ons to NASA’s Mars CubeSat missions MarCO-A and -B. It can also be used for NASA LEO and GEO nanosat missions, whether launched as dedicated or as secondary payloads.
Non-NASA applications include commercial and DoD missions requiring high orbital maneuver capabilities. These include missions on small dedicated launch vehicles where additional delta-V is required, as well as space-tug applications on Falcon-9 rideshare launches. The stage can also be used for other applications such as orbital inspectors.