Orbion Space Technology, a developer of next-generation small satellite propulsion systems based in Houghton, today announced it has raised $9.2 million in Series A funding to mass produce its Aurora plasma thruster systems for small satellites.
The funding was led by Material Impact, a venture capital firm focused on investing in innovating technologies and also include Invest Michigan, Invest Detroit, Wakestream Ventures, Ann Arbor SPARK, and Boomerang Catapult.
“We’re honored to have the financial support and expertise of such key investors as Material Impact to power our progress,” says Brad King, CEO of Orbion Space Technology. “It’s an exciting milestone in our mission to bring modern mass-manufacturing to space technology and help new space operators unlock their full potential.”
The investment comes as Orbion gears up to manufacture and mass-produce the first-ever electricity-based plasma thrusters for small satellites, dubbed the Orbion Aurora system. Aurora is the highest-performing system of its kind in the world, according to King, and will deliver the performance and efficiency gains that space operators need to drive greater return on investment for small satellite ROI missions.
Orbion’s approach to space system manufacturing is unique, King says. It integrates high-performance space technology, robotic assembly line integration, and acceptance testing perfected in high-volume production environments. This model adapts key techniques and infrastructure developed in the tactical missile industry.
Small satellite launches are projected to increase at an unprecedented rate in the coming years, but the supplier base for key technologies is not yet mature enough to support the projected growth, according to Obrion. Many of the components on new small satellites, such as solar cells, batteries, and computers can be leveraged from large established terrestrial markets and can easily satisfy the projected growth. Propulsion, however, is a “space-only” technology that has no terrestrial counterpart. King says Orbion is the only supplier capable of delivering hundreds or thousands of thrusters for satellites.
“We believe Orbion’s thruster technology will propel small satellites into a booming market driven by applications ranging from high-speed mobile communications to high-resolution imaging,” says Adam Sharkawy, co-founder and managing partner of Material Impact. “While there is also a great deal of interest in shoebox-sized cubesats, we believe that the small satellites in the 100 kg range that the Orbion thrusters can currently propel will represent the workhorse applications with the largest growth in the next 5-10 years. As a result, the small satellite market is projected to exceed $62B by 2030.”
King says in addition to its ability to manufacture at-scale, Orbion’s approach has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars for operators by reducing propulsion system mass by three times while improving the imaging, lifespan, orbit control, and re-entry. Unlike traditional testing that takes 6-8 months before delivery, Orbion’s manufacturing approach aims to build and ship thrusters within just 6-8 days of order.