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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Satellite internet startup Astranis books first commercial launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 – gpgmail


Y Combinator-backed startup Astranis is now set to launch its first commercial telecommunication satellite aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, with a launch timeframe currently set for sometime starting in the fourth quarter of next year. Astranis aims to address the market of people who don’t currently have broadband internet access, which is still a huge number globally, and they hope to do so using low-cost satellites that massively undercut the price of existing global telecommunications hardware, which can be built and launched much faster than existing spacecraft, too.

Astranis satellites are much more cost efficient because they’re smaller and easier to make, which changes the economics of deployment for potential carrier and connectivity provider partners. Its approach has already attracted the partnership of Microcom subsidiary Pacific Dataport, an Anchorage company that was formed to expand satellite broadband access in Alaska. This will be the goal of the company’s first launch with SpaceX, to deliver a single satellite to geostationary orbit that will add more than 7.5 Gbps of capacity to the internet provider’s network in Alaska, tripling capacity and potentially reducing costs by “up to three times,” according to Astranis.

This isn’t the first ever satellite that Astranis has sent up to space – it launched a demonstration satellite in 2018 to show that its tech could work as advertised. Astranis’ approach is distinct from others attempting to offer satellite-based connectivity, including SpaceX’s own Starlink project, because it focuses on building satellites that remain in a fixed orbital position relative to the area on the ground where they’re providing service, as opposed to using a large constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites that offer coverage because one or more are bound to be over the coverage area at any given time as they orbit the Earth, handing off connections from one to the next.


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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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