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Canadian startup to test rocket motor at spaceport

Up Aerospace’s SpaceLoft 8 rocket takes off from Spaceport America’s vertical launch pad in 2013. ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Canadian startup C6 Launch Systems has signed an agreement with the spaceport this month to conduct test operations there over a six-week period in January for its satellite-launch rocket. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Canadian startup C6 Launch Systems will fire up its rocket motors for static engine tests at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico in January.

The company signed an agreement with the spaceport this month to conduct test operations there over a six-week period in January for its satellite-launch rocket, which it aims to shoot into suborbit by 2022 and into orbital trajectories by 2023, said C6 President Richard McCammon.

A local New Mexico firm is constructing a vertical static test stand for C6 operations at the spaceport’s vertical launch area. Once C6 finishes testing early next year, it will leave the test stand behind.

“We’re building the test stand in New Mexico with a company near the Spaceport,” McCammon told the Journal. “When we’re done, it will remain there for other companies to use.”

C6 is targeting small nano-sat and cube-sat launch services of up to 30 kilograms. It distinguishes itself from larger companies through niche services that provide satellite operators with rapid turnaround to place payloads into precise orbits as needed.

In contrast, bigger companies accommodate many customers at once, sometimes launching constellations of satellites on one rocket.

“We’re dedicated to rapid service delivery to place a customer’s small satellite on time and on target,” McCammon said. “It’s like a taxi cab ride versus a bus, where customers wait for a ride with many others.”

The company is using mostly off-the-shelf parts to build its rocket, employing already proven technology to lower risk through stable, trustworthy functionality, McCammon said. And it’s focused on “sun synchronous orbit” to guarantee that satellites pass over any given point at the same local solar time. That’s beneficial for imaging and weather satellites, ensuring nearly identical surface illumination with each pass.

C6 is the fourth company to sign a spaceport agreement this year. TMD Defense and Space and White Sands Research and Developers announced last January plans to initiate launch activities at the spaceport. And in June, HAPSMobile began testing and developing a new solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle there to offer Internet connection in remote regions.

The pandemic, however, has interfered with some operations, said spaceport Interim Executive Director Scott McLaughlin.

“Several customers have postponed activities because suppliers slowed down deliveries and because those companies must navigate around quarantine rules to come to New Mexico,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve had a hit to our revenue as a result.”

C6 signed a short-term agreement, but the company may well do more testing later as it prepares for suborbital and orbital launches, McLaughlin said. And its use of the spaceport could attract more Canadian companies, potentially opening a new user market for the spaceport.

“C6 can show what the spaceport can offer other companies,” McLaughlin said. “I’m already talking to more Canadian firms.”


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