In a setback during the SpaceX Transporter-9 rideshare launch in November, the deployment of three satellites encountered failure, casting uncertainty on their operational status.
Momentus, the company responsible for these satellites, reported on December 5 that, despite successfully releasing the Hello Test 1 and 2 satellites from Turkish company Hello Space, the fate of the remaining three satellites remains undetermined. The company utilized a third-party deployer instead of its Vigoride tug for this mission.
“Momentus cannot confirm the deployment of the remaining three satellites for three other customers and based on the results of a detailed investigation undertaken, the Company does not believe those satellites were released from the third-party deployer system. Momentus appreciates and thanks SpaceX for its work and collaboration in providing information necessary to assist our ongoing investigation into the likely root cause of the issues encountered.”
Interestingly, Momentus refrained from disclosing the identities of the three affected satellites in their announcement. However, prior statements identified them as AMAN-1, JINJUSat-1, and Picacho, a 1U cubesat developed by Lunasonde.
Picacho aimed to showcase technology for mapping subsurface mineral and groundwater resources utilizing very-low-frequency radio waves.
After the launch, Lunasonde asserted that Picacho was in orbit and operational. The founder, Jeremiah Pate, expressed excitement on social media, stating that the satellite had successfully entered orbit. Nevertheless, recent revelations indicate a discrepancy.
Moreover, Pate informed SpaceNews that telemetry from Momentus suggested the deployer door containing Picacho had opened, but the pusher plate that would eject the satellite did not fully move, leaving the satellite’s release unconfirmed.
Identification is a challenge
While Picacho’s deployment remains uncertain, the Falcon 9 upper stage, responsible for carrying all the payloads, executed a deorbit maneuver shortly after the release sequence was completed, and reentered about an hour after the planned deployment. This means that if the payload wasn’t deployed, it then burned up upon reentry with Falcon 9’s second stage.
Notably, Picacho, AMAN-1, and JINJUSat-1 are not listed in the Space-Track database maintained by the U.S. Space Force. This lack of formal identification is not unprecedented in launches with numerous smallsats, where some remain challenging to identify or are never heard from post-deployment.
In addition, regarding the other affected satellites, JINJUSat-1 and AMAN-1, developed by South Korean company Contec and Polish company SatRev, respectively, there haven’t been comments from their respective organizations regarding the reported loss. The fate of these satellites remains uncertain.