Satellite propulsion meets 3D printing. It may sound like science fiction, but that is exactly how Accion Systems plans to change how the aerospace industry sends small satellites into orbit. Using unique propellants and novel manufacturing techniques, they are breaking away from slow, expensive legacy alternatives and leveraging advances in areas like 3D printing and nanofabrication. And we couldn’t be more pumped to support them on this exciting mission!
Global satellites is a $195 billion industry, with the emergence of small satellites, advancements in electronics and the decrease in manufacturing and launch costs, the amount of satellites launched from 2012-2013 has increased 1000%.
The founders, Natalya Brikner and Louis Perna, developed the technology behind Accion at MIT’s Space Propulsion Lab.
Louis worked as a NASA contractor on technical and programmatic risk for the Constellation Program and follow-on private endeavors. He is the resident MEMS fabrication expert for Accion’s thrusters where he’s built a track record of coming up with methods for reducing COGS and questioning the status quo. Louis spent time at NASA GRC where he investigated operating modes of an Aerojet Rocketdyne ion engine.
Natalya has studied space propulsion, both chemical and electric, for over 10 years. She has led development and test programs for spacecraft propulsion at Duke and MIT and is also the program manager of a NASA thruster development program—she manages five teams across the country, the program schedule, and all the money. While completing her MS at Duke University, Natalya co-founded a propulsion company that disbanded during fundraising but taught her a lot.
Together at Accion, they built their first prototype, called MIN-0, in collaboration with an industry partner. The whole system–which includes the thruster head, power electronics, and propellant tanks–is about the size of a pack of gum. For satellites, size matters and, despite being ultra compact, MIN-0 was able to provide an impressive 30 uN of thrust during tests.
With the successful design, build, and test under their belt, this team is ready to move on to bigger and better products. MIN-0 produces enough thrust to detumble a CubeSat – small, cubic satellites used for research – after it is launched from the International Space Station or to compensate for atmospheric drag in low-Earth orbit.
Accion’s product roadmap is focused on adding more thrust capacity, higher efficiency and increased lifetime to enable missions like orbit raising and interplanetary transfers for satellites up to 150 kg.
To date, the team has completed 100-hour ground tests. Accion’s first launch is coming up later in 2015. Accion recently closed a $2 million Seed round from FF Science, RRE Ventures, Founder Collective, Slow Ventures and Galvanize Ventures. We can’t wait to watch them reach for the skies.
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