Orbion raises $9.2M to mass-produce plasma thrusters for small satellites – gpgmail


Michigan-based startup Orbion has secured $9.2 million in Series A funding, which it will use as it undertakes the mass-produced manufacturing of its plasma thrusters for use in small satellites. Orbion’s thrusters are Hall-effect thrusters, which use an electric field to accelerate their propellant and create thrust. Hall-effect thrusters are nothing new, but Orbion’s approach, which uses plasma propulsion, has not previously been available at a cost and volume affordable for smaller satellite operators.

Just as SpaceX has greatly reduced the cost of launch services, Orbion aims to take a technology that was once reserved for the elite few, who could spend hundreds of millions or more on launching gigantic, train car-sized satellites into orbit. That basically limited the addressable market to government, defense and some very deep-pocketed commercial clients.

It’s a shame because plasma propulsion is a fundamental necessity for some types of satellite operations, regardless of budget – and it’s also a much more propellant-efficient method vs. other potential options, and will even enable satellites to have longer operating lives before they fall out of orbit and therefore out of service.

The small sat and cube sat boom we’ve seen and are seeing is due in large part to the increased affordability of key components that make up their construction, from sensors, to optics, to processors, to solar panels and more. But as Orbion points out, in-space propulsion isn’t something that’s gained any cost benefits from advances and mass-production ramp in the computer, smartphone or energy industries here on Earth. Unlocking the ability to manufacture effective, efficient and reliable in-space propulsion systems at scale is therefore a key unlock for ensuring the small sat industry can grow with demand.

Orbion is looking to make it possible to reduce delivery times from six to eight months of testing alone, after the thrusters are manufactured, before a customer even takes delivery, down to just six to eight days from order. It’s working to improve both speed and volume through an end-to-end manufacturing process that makes use of robotic assembly lines – one borrowed in part from the missile industry, so it’s not without proven precedent.

This new round of funding will help Orbion grow to meet the swelling demand it sees from commercial industry, as well as government agencies, and was led by Material Impact and includes contributions from Invest Michigan, Invest Detroit, Wakestream Ventures, Ann Arbor SPARK and Boomerang Catapult.


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Rocket Lab successfully launches rideshare rocket with two experimental USAF satellites on board – gpgmail


Rocket Lab has successfully launched its eight mission, an Electron rocket rideshare flight carrying four satellites to orbit for various clients. The Electron launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, at 12:12 AM NZST (8:12 AM ET). This was its second attempt, after a scrub last week due to adverse weather conditions on the launch range.

On board, it carried a rideshare mission from launch services provider Spaceflight, which works to bring together payloads to simplify the process of finding a provider for smaller payloads and companies. The Spaceflight portion of the payload included three satellites: One satellite from BlackSky, which does Earth-imaging, and which will join its twin launched by Rocket Lab in June already in low-Earth orbit to form a constellation.

Spaceflight’s cargo also included two experimental satellites launched by the U.S. Air Force Space Command, which will carry out tests of new technology related to spacecraft propulsion, power, communications and more, and which are designed to pave the way for deployment of related technologies in future spacecraft.

There’s also a fourth satellite on board, a CubeSat that will be the anchor for a new constellation aimed at providing up-to-date and accurate monitoring of maritime traffic, operated by Unseenlabs.

Rocket Lab’s New Zealand LC-1 will be joined by a second launch site in Virginia, to provide a U.S.-based complimentary launch site for serving customers on a monthly basis.

The company also plans to eventually make its Electron rockets reusable, even though they were originally intended as fully expendable launch vehicles, using a recovery process that involves catching returning rockets mid-air after they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Today’s launch included a test of recovery equipment for the Electron’s first stage – an initial test that aimed to have the rocket land back in the Pacific via parachute, where Rocket Lab will attempt to pick it up from the ocean for potential refurbishment.


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Is space truly within reach for startups and VC? – TechCrunch


Elon Musk’s SpaceX managed to pull off something very few people thought it could — by disrupting one of the most fixed markets in the world with some of the most entrenched and protected players ever to benefit from government contract arrangements: rocket launches. The success of SpaceX, and promising progress from other new launch providers, including Blue Origin and Rocket Lab, have encouraged interest in space-based innovation among entrepreneurs and investors alike. But is this a true boom, or just a blip?

There’s an argument for both at once, with one type of space startup rapidly descending to Earth in terms of commercialization timelines and potential upside, and the other remaining a difficult bet to make unless you’re comfortable with long timelines before any liquidity event and a lot of upfront investment.

Cheaper, faster, lighter, better

Image via Getty Images / Andrey Suslov

There’s no question that one broad category of technology at least is a lot more addressable by early-stage companies (and by extension, traditional VC investment). The word “satellite” once described almost exclusively gigantic, extremely expensive hunks of sophisticated hardware, wherein each component would eat up the monthly burn rate of your average early-stage consumer tech venture.



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