More spacecraft will be sent into orbit this year than ever before in human history, and the number of satellite launches is only expected to increase during the rest of the decade. In these congested conditions, being able to operate satellites in space and orbit them when they reach the end of their useful lives will be critical.
To enter Aurora Propulsion Technologies. It is one of a handful of startups that have emerged over the years to help simplify the problem of spacecraft propulsion. Since its inception in 2018, the Finnish company has developed two products – a small thruster engine and a plasma braking system – and will test both in in-orbit demonstration in the fourth quarter of this year. Aurora’s activities have attracted investor attention: the company has just closed a €1.7 million ($2 million) seed round to bring its technology to market.
The round was led by Lithuanian VC firm Practica Capital, with additional participation from state-owned private equity firm TESI (Finnish Industry Investment Limited) and Cluj Ventures. Individual investors also participated.
Aurora’s first in-orbit demonstration, Aurora Sat-1, will go to space on the Rocket Lab rideshare mission, the company announced last month. There will be two modules on that satellite. The first module will house six Aurora “resistojet” engines, designed to help the small spacecraft adjust their approach (the satellite’s orientation, not its mood) and de-tumble. Aurora will also test its plasma brake technology, which could be used to launch orbiting satellites or even perform deep space missions.
Each resistojet thruster comes in about a centimeter long, and it moves the spacecraft using microliters of water and propellant. The six thrusters are distributed around the satellite in such a way as to facilitate motion in virtually any direction, and the thruster can also control the temperature of the water and the strength of the puff of steam that is required to generate motion. leave is granted.
Aurora CEO Roop Takla, who previously worked for Nokia, compared innovations in weight and size in the space industry – which we see at ResistoJet – to what happened with cell phones and computers twenty years ago. “The industry moves very slowly,” he said in a recent interview with Nerdshala. “In the old space age, it took a quarter of the time to develop a rocket engine—that would be a quarter of a century. Now, it takes two quarters of a year. That’s what we did.”
Plasma brake uses an electrically charged microtether to generate a lump of protons to generate drag. This is ideal for orbiting a spacecraft, but interestingly (and counterintuitively), plasma brakes can also be used for travel away from the planet, Takala said. This is because as you move out of Earth’s magnetosphere, the plasma brake becomes unstable and moves with the solar wind (which is also plasma). “The same product can jump on that flow of plasma from the Sun and extract energy from it,” Takla explained. “In that context we can use it as an interplanetary travel tool.”
Theoretically, if a spacecraft was equipped with multiple tethers spread out in different directions, it could be used to maneuver and guide the spacecraft like a sailboat, he said. However, this technology is only somewhat scalable, so don’t expect it to send spacecraft into deep space any time soon. This is mostly due to limitations in the physical strength of the plasma break tether, but the technique can be used for satellites weighing up to about 1,000 kilograms.
“That’s our future. That’s where we’re aiming,” Takla said. “We’re now focused on low Earth orbit with plasma brake and attitude control for the short term [resistojet], and later when the Moon businesses start like they’re slowly starting to do, we’ll probably be looking at that.”
Plasma brakes and resistojet thrusters will need to be installed on spacecraft before they can be launched into orbit, but Aurora is in talks with other companies about the ability to install plasma brakes into orbit for existing space junk. Looking at the short term, the company is going to use the funds to scale up the technology for low Earth orbit and its production, as well as adding facilities to the products to equip them for satellites larger than CubeSats. For.
In the long term, Aurora has a vision to conduct missions into deep space. “We started with the idea that we wanted to make a technology that would actually fit in a small spacecraft, [and] travels really fast so that we can catch the Voyager probes,” Takla said.
“First the Moon and then Mars, Venus, and then one day we might be able to catch Voyagers and make a bigger trip.”