Satellite plasma thruster startup Orbion raises $9.2 million

Michigan-based space tech company Orbion has just reported that it had secured $9.2 million in a Series A Funding roundup within the week. The funds will be directly used to scale up manufacturing for its smallsat Hall-effect plasma thrusters.

Hall-effect thrusters, a relatively old technology first conceptualized in the 1960s by the Soviet Union, is essentially an ion thruster. Ion thrusters are typically known to have a very high specific impulse compared to traditional rocket engines, as the fuel mass to acceleration ratio achieves high efficiency with the use of ionized gas particles. While completely inefficient as a surface launch engine, it can provide very long term fuel capacities for spacecraft that are already considerably away from any planetary body’s gravity well.

Orbion is utilizing this very technology for its lineup of plasma thrusters. Officially named the Orbion Aurora system, this will be the very product that the company intends to mass produce with the funding it had just recently acquired. As for the thruster’s design and purpose, they are built for smaller-scale satellites, and will function in maintaining orbital velocities, or long-term course corrections for farther launch point distances.

On the manufacturing side, the end-to-end method of this startup company will be to integrate modern robotic assembly-line designs with the stringent build requirements that are typical of space technology firms and organizations.

The final objective, at least on paper, is to emulate the same achievements SpaceX had within the space launch industry — to make space hardware cheaper and easier to produce in order to foster further development within directly related industries in the satellite design and production sectors.

Ideally, Orbion hopes that it could provide a business model that will allow customers to order Orbion Aurora thrusters, build them on demand, conduct inspection and testing, and finally deliver the product within just a week.

The funding roundup was led by Material Impact, and also included other investors such as Ann Arbor SPARK, Boomerang Catapult, and Invest Michigan.

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