ERNST update — new launcher, new launch date

While we completed the ERNST flight model and prepared it for acceptance testing in 2022, we face a delay of the launch to 2024.

We would have liked to report here about the accomplished launch of ERNST to orbit. In 2022, we completed the ERNST subsystems and prepared the ERNST flight model for final integration and acceptance testing. A shortage in the currently available launch capacities now requires more patience until this milestone will be reached.

ERNST will be launched as part of a cooperation between the German Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Department of Defense in their “Space Test Program”. With the designated LauncherOne rocket failing in January 2023 and the providing company filing for bankruptcy in April, a timely launch of ERNST was prevented. Instead, ERNST, along with other prominent small satellites from Australia and the United Kingdom, needed to be re-manifested onto another launcher, provided by the U.S. company ABL Space Systems. After the inaugural flight of their RS1 launcher failed in January 2023 as well, a second launch attempt is currently being prepared. For ERNST, this means a delay of the launch date to summer 2024.

One objective of the ERNST mission is to explore the potential of the New Space, characterized by constellations of smaller satellites and new launch systems with short development times. In this context, this delay is emblematic of the dynamics of the current upheaval in the space industry, even though we would have gladly done without demonstrating this specific aspect. We are using the additional time on system tests of the satellite in a so-called flat-sat configuration.

© Fraunhofer EMI
Fit check of the ERNST infrared payload with optical bench and baffle.