Space Company in UP Scores Satellite Thruster Contract

A space-related company based in Houghton in the Upper Peninsula has been selected to supply thrusters for satellites that are slated to begin launching in 2021.
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Orbion Space Technologies will supply the thrusters for the Blackjack satellites to be manufactured by Blue Canyon Technologies. // Image courtesy: Blue Canyon Technologies and Orbion Space Technology

A space-related company based in Houghton in the Upper Peninsula has been selected to supply thrusters for satellites that are slated to begin launching in 2021.

Colorado’s Blue Canyon Technologies has selected Orbion Space Technology to provide orbital thrusters for Blue Canyon’s Blackjack satellite constellation program being funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

DARPA awarded Blue Canyon a $14.1 million contract in June to begin manufacturing the first four of 20 planned satellites for the Blackjack program, which will be based on Blue Canyon’s X-SAT microsatellite bus. Orbion will provide onboard electric propulsion for the spacecraft with the Orbion Aurora Hall-effect thruster system for small satellites built and manufactured in Houghton.

DARPA’s contract with Blue Canyon has options for DARPA to buy up to 20 Blue Canyon satellites for a total of $99.4 million. The spacecraft will support DARPA’s program objectives for military relevant payloads.

“DARPA’s goal with Blackjack is to capitalize on commercial-sector space advances and use them for military utility,” says Brad King, CEO of Orbion Space Technologies, which was spawned from research conducted at Michigan Technological University. “Orbion’s philosophy is to offer propulsion systems that are priced for commercial customers, but that retain the high-reliability required by government users, and this is a perfect fit for Blackjack. We’re excited to play a vital role in this program. Our mass manufacturing technique will offer economies of scale previously unavailable.”

The goal of the Blackjack Program is to demonstrate that a constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites meets Department of Defense performance and payload requirements, at a significantly lower cost, with shorter design cycles, and with easier and more frequent technology upgrades.

“Orbion has fully embraced the challenge we have in front of us to produce and integrate a highly capable propulsion system, in a small form-factor, with affordable reliability,” says Bill Schum, program manager at Blue Canyon.

The spacecraft will be delivered on a rapid timeline to support the DARPA demonstration schedule with the first spacecraft to be delivered in mid-2021.

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