Altius Proposes System to Launch CubeSats From Cygnus Supply Ships

Satellite deployed from Cygnus cargo module using Hatchbasket. (Credit: Altius Space Machines)
Satellite deployed from Cygnus cargo module using Hatchbasket. (Credit: Altius Space Machines)

Space News reports on an innovative proposal by Altius Space Machines to use Cygnus cargo ships to launch CubeSats into higher orbits:

Altius engineers have designed the new payload carrier, called HatchBasket, to fit in the hatchway of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s enhanced Cygnus cargo module and take advantage of fuel remaining in the unmanned cargo ship to boost the capsule to an altitude of approximately 500 kilometers where HatchBasket would expel its complement of satellites.

Satellites launched at that altitude are likely to remain in orbit without onboard propulsion systems for two to three years. In comparison, the anticipated lifespan for cubesats released from the space station, which travels at an altitude of roughly 350 kilometers from Earth, is six to 12 months, said Jonathan Goff, president and chief executive of Louisville, Colorado-based Altius.

It is not yet clear how many satellites HatchBasket would carry, because Altius and NASA officials are continuing to discuss how large the payload carrier should be, said William Bolton, vice president for marketing and sales.

A preliminary version of HatchBasket exhibited at Utah State University’s annual Small Satellite conference in August was large enough to hold 40 three-unit cubesats, which are roughly the size of a loaf of bread and weigh 3 to 4 kilograms, as well as two much larger satellites around 180 kilograms. Now it appears more likely that HatchBasket will hold one or two 50-kilogram satellites in addition to a number of cubesats that has not yet been determined, Bolton said.

Altius is working on the project with NanoRacks, which launches CubeSats from the Japanese Kibo module.