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Satnews Daily
August 14th, 2017

Virgin Orbit and SITAEL - LauncherOne to Inject μHETsat into Orbit

The μHETsat satellite, a collaborative effort of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and SITAEL, will be launched by Richard Branson's recently initiated Virgin Orbit company — the contract for the launch of this smallsat was agreed upon and signed at the recent 31st Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

SITAEL's S-75 platform. Left, an exploded view of the smallsat. Right, the platform itself.

Images are courtesy of SITAEL.

This tech demo of a new propulsion system for the two space agencies was developed by the largest, privately-owned space company in Italy —  SITAEL. The firm that was established in 1994 and concentrates on smallsats, from their development and builds to on orbit commissioning. This will be, according to the firm, the first all-electric smallsat to gain orbit and will be validating SITAEL's S-75 bus and their Hall Effect Thruster (HT100).

SITAEL provides the entire end-to-end system, which are built around low cost, multi-purpose platforms. Most of the firm's spacecraft are equipped with advanced electric propulsion to ensure greater flexibility on orbit maneuvering/control and significant mission lifetime extension. SITAEL main platform products are S-50 (up to 50 kg S/C mass), S-75 (up to 75 kg S/C mass) and S-200 (up to 200 kg S/C mass).

Virgin Orbit's Cosmic Girl carrying LauncherOne.

Images is courtesy of Virgin Orbit.

The launch itself will be handled by Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne that is designed to handle spacecraft ranging from 500 kg to 1100 lbm for insertion into LEO... at an affordable price. The difference between a Virgin Orbit launch and other orbit injections that push away from a ground based pad is that LauncherOne is lofted to about 35,00 feet via the firm's Cosmic Girl 747-400 aircraft and then takes off from that airborne platform.