UK space launch elements coming together

Space systems provider Moog will complete the development of its first Small Launch Orbital Manoeuvring Vehicle (SL-OMV) later in 2021, ahead of its installation onto an ABL Space Systems RS1 rocket and launch from a UK spaceport next year.

In development for around four years, the SL-OMV is a propulsive tug for secondary payload deployment and designed to launch on Venture Class Launch Vehicles (VCLV) with a capacity of 150kg or greater. Defence and space prime Lockheed Martin contracted ABL Space Systems to provide launch capability, while Moog in turn developed the payload delivery system.

A scale model of Moog's SL-OMV was displayed at Space Comm Expo in Farnborough, with officials stating that development of the system will be completed later this year. Richard Thomas

For the UK launch, likely to take around Q3 2022, six payload boxes have been made available to potential customers seeking space access for 6U CubeSat satellites. Currently, one of the dispensers has been filled by Orbital Micro Systems, which operates weather satellites.

Describing the SL-OMV as the “baby of the family” of Moog’s orbital vehicles, a company official explained the first system will be delivered later in 2021 and while there are no follow-on contracts for additional units there was an intention to keep producing and developing the platform.

“We have future designs in mind [using the] same structure” the official, who was attending the inaugural Space-Comm Expo in Farnborough on July 8, told AIR International.

One such design could see eight 12U CubeSat dispensers stacked to increase total payload, although this would in turn impact which launch vehicle could be used to provide access to low Earth orbit (LEO). At a 200kg all-in weight, a 300kg class launch vehicle would have to be used, instead of a smaller 150kg class launch vehicle for a 90kg all-in weight.

According to the official, 60% of material needed to develop the SL-OMV was sourced from the UK, with the build taking space at Moog’s Reading facility.

The SL-OMV can survive for more than 12 months operating in LEO, with an orbital range of between 300km-900km.

Speaking during an earlier July 6 online media briefing, Lockheed Martin Space UK regional director for UK and Europe, said the company aspired to use the UK as a “launchpad” to export future space technology in the years ahead.

“We are keen to see viable long-term infrastructure in the UK,” Smith stated.

Regarding the 2022 launch from the UK with Moog’s orbital vehicle, Smith said Lockheed Martin UK was looking for partners in the first launch that would have a “direct impact” on the country’s space sector, adding that the company was in conversation “with a number of other partners” for the remaining launch slots.

Richard Thomas