ABL Space Systems, a small launch vehicle company, has been awarded a contract to launch a NASA technology demonstration spacecraft in 2023.
ABL Space Systems announced on Sept. 16 that the NASA Cryogenic Demonstration Mission spacecraft will be launched in 2023 on its RS1 rocket. In 2020, NASA awarded a $89.7 million contract to a team led by Lockheed Martin to build the smallsat mission, which would test cryogenic fluid management technology in orbit using liquid hydrogen.
Lockheed Martin intended to launch the spacecraft via Momentus, an in-space transportation firm, which would manifest the satellite on a Vigoride transfer vehicle launched by Relativity Space on a Terran 1 rocket in 2023.
Momentus, on the other hand, was withdrawn from the program, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Momentus in April 2021. Momentus was removed from the project for unknown reasons, although the filing came as the company was undergoing federal government inquiries into its Russian ownership at the time, which caused the company’s initial Vigoride missions to be postponed.
In a statement, Dan Piemont, president of ABL Space Systems, stated, “This cryo demo is a fantastic illustration of the unique research missions allowed by low-cost, dedicated launch, and we’re delighted that RS1 was chosen.” To allow liquid hydrogen to be loaded into the spacecraft before launch, the firm will make changes to its GS0 ground system as well as the payload fairing and payload support systems of the RS1.
ABL Space Systems is backed by Lockheed Martin, which is responsible for the Cryogenic Demonstration Mission’s launch services. This launch deal, according to Piemont, is distinct from Lockheed’s April block purchase of up to 58 RS1 launches. ABL was also chosen by Lockheed Martin for its “UK Pathfinder” launch in 2022 from the Shetland Space Centre in the United Kingdom.
This year, ABL planned to launch its RS1 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California for the first time. Piemont said the business now aims to launch its first RS1 rocket from Kodiak Island’s Pacific Spaceport Complex before the end of the year. He said the firm will operate from both Kodiak and Vandenberg “as soon as possible,” but chose Kodiak for its maiden mission.