Aurora Propulsion Technologies closes € 1.7 million seed for spacecraft maneuvering and desorbitation technology – TechCrunch

More spacecraft will be sent into orbit this year than ever before in human history, and the number of satellite launches is only projected to increase for the rest of the decade. In these crowded conditions, being able to maneuver satellites in space and exorbitate them when they reach the end of their useful life will be key.

Pay in Aurora propulsion technologies. It is one of the few startups that have emerged in recent years to help simplify the problem of spacecraft propulsion. Since its founding in 2018, the Finnish company has developed two products, a small drive motor and a plasma braking system, and will test them in an in-orbit demonstration in the fourth quarter of this year. Aurora’s activities have caught the attention of investors: The company just closed an initial 1.7 million euro ($ 2 million) round to bring its technology to market.

The round was led by Lithuanian venture capital firm Practica Capital, with additional participation from state private equity company TESI (Finnish Industry Investment Ltd.) and Kluz Ventures. Individual investors also participated.

First in-orbit demonstration of Aurora, Aurora Sat 1, will head into space on a Rocket Lab rideshare mission, the company announced last month. In that satellite there will be two modules. The first module will contain six Aurora “resistojet” engines, designed to help small spacecraft adjust their attitude (the orientation of the satellite, not their mood) and stop falling. Aurora will also test its Plasma Brake technology, which could be used to deorbit satellites or even carry out missions in deep space.

Each resistojet propellant is approximately one centimeter long and moves the spacecraft using microliters of water and propellant. The six thrusters are arranged around the satellite in such a way as to facilitate movement in virtually any direction, and the thruster can also modulate the temperature of the water and the force of the puff of steam that is discharged to generate motion.

Aurora CEO Roope Takala, who previously worked for Nokia, compared the innovations in weight and size in the space industry, which we see in the resistojet, with what happened with cell phones and computers twenty years ago. “The industry is moving very slow,” he said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “In the old space age, it took a quarter to develop a rocket engine, that would be a quarter of a century. Now, it takes two quarters of the year. That’s what we did. “

The Plasma Brake uses an electrically charged microtheter to generate a mass of protons to generate resistance. That’s ideal for de-orbiting a spacecraft, but interestingly (and contradictory) the Plasma Brake could also be used for off-planet travel, Takala said. That’s because when you leave the 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 that,” explained Takala. “In that context, we can use it as an interplanetary travel tool.”

In theory, if a spacecraft were equipped with multiple tethers extending in different directions, it could be used to rotate and guide the spacecraft, like a sailboat, he added. However, this technology is only scalable up to a point, so don’t expect it to send a manned spacecraft into deep space anytime soon. That’s primarily due to limitations in the material strength of Plasma Brake straps, but the technology can be used for satellites up to around 1,000 kilograms.

“That is our future. That’s where we aim, ”Takala said. “We are now focused on the short term in low Earth orbit with the Plasma Brake and attitude control. [resistojet], and later when the lunar businesses start, since they are slowly starting to do it, then we will probably look at it that way. “

The Plasma Brake and the resistojet propellant should be placed on a spacecraft before they are launched into orbit, but Aurora is in conversation with other companies about the potential of the Plasma Brakes in-orbit facility for existing space debris. Looking at the short term, the company will use the funds to produce the technology for low Earth orbit and serialize its production, as well as to add features to the products to equip them for satellites larger than CubeSats.

In the longer term, Aurora has a vision for missions in deep space. “We started from the idea that we want to make a technology that fits into a really small spacecraft, [and] It travels very fast so that we can reach the Voyager probes, ”Takala said.

“First to the moon and then to Mars, Venus, and then one day maybe we can catch up with Voyagers and take a great trip.”

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