Orbion, Michigan-based space propulsion startup has now been made a new partner by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Orbion has signed a research contract from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate. The deal is specifically aimed at helping the DOD enhance the resiliency of the U.S. systems in space.
The interesting thing is to see how Orbion’s propulsion technology can be applied to DOD satellites when used in large constellation forms. The propulsion system would provide those satellites appropriate thrust while in orbit and do so cost-effectively. In a press release announcing the news, Orbion CEO, Brad King, said that volume is a strategy when it comes to fortifying the U.S. systems in space against potential foreign attacks.
Words from Orbion CEO
According to King, by building and deploying small satellites in large numbers with low cost, the U.S. can improve the resilience of space systems. He stated, “Orbion is developing mass-production techniques to build propulsion systems for commercial customers. With this research contract, we are investigating how or if our manufacturing processes must be modified to meet DOD requirements”.
Three months ago Orbion secured $9.2 million in Series A funding, which they planned to use in mass-producing plasma thrusters for small satellites. Orbion’s thrusters are based on a phenomenon known as the Hall-effect. The thrusters use an electric field to accelerate their propellant and create thrust. The hall-effect thruster is not a new concept; however, Orbion’s approach, which uses plasma propulsion, will be affordable for smaller satellite operators.
It is noticeable that the major space powers, including the U.S., have focused on large, expensive, and singular pieces of orbital hardware as their strategic assets. However, shifting to the small satellite constellation approach is in trend according to some private companies. They said, “It has lots of advantages in terms of redundancy”.
“A Hard Deal to Lose”
Orbion’s entire business notion as a startup is that it is affixing mass-production to space thrusters, which will cut down costs and make its technology approachable to a much wider range of potential clients and practical for application in small satellite design.
The DOD may not have a “budget problem”; however, when they are getting long-term cost savings with a sprinkle of tactical advantage, then it is a hard bargain to pass up.
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