Exoterra Acquires Major Contract for Solar Electric Propulsion

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ExoTerra Resources LLC obtained a US$ 1.5 million investment for development of solar electric propulsion systems for microsatellites

ExoTerra Resources LLC, Colorado-based startup acquired a US$ 1.5 million investment that is expected to facilitate development of solar electric propulsion systems for microsatellites. According to Michael VanWoerkom, ExoTerra president and founder, the investment is significant as it enables the company to fund flight qualification effort and it will help to show investor confidence in the company’s business plan and in the growth of the microsatellite market.

The company was founded in 2011 and it has developed its Halo Hall-Effect Thruster, flexible solar arrays, and radiation-resistant power distribution systems with the help of funds acquired from NASA and Air Force Small Business Innovative Research programs. According to VanWoerkom, the company is focused on completing environmental testing of its solar electric propulsion systems by May 2019. In 2017, the company was awarded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate with a contract through its Tipping Point initiative. The award was aimed to supports development of promising commercial technologies, which would also benefit the space agency. According to a statement from NASA, the agency selected ExoTerra’s thruster due to its part in safety concerns.

In a press release on February 22, 2017 NASA states that opportunities to launch as secondary payloads offer a cost effective method to get small spacecraft into orbit however, safety restrictions on launching with energetic and pressurized materials often restrict spacecraft from carrying significant propulsion capabilities. ExoTerra Resources LLC has scheduled flight test of 300-watt solar electric propulsion system that relies on iodine instead of xenon gas. Iodine can be launched as an inert solid and once in orbit, the solid can be vaporized into an ionized gas, which eliminates the risk to the launch vehicle. Moreover, launching as a dense solid instead of a gas enhances the amount of propellant that is stored in the same volume on the spacecraft.  In March 2018, ExoTerra Resources LLC was awarded by NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts for its Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester mission aimed in development of a miniature In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) system for liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellant.

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Cynthia Carrier is a graduate of Texas A&M, where she played volleyball and annoyed a lot of professors. Now as Plains Gazette's entertainment and Lifestyle Editor, she enjoys writing about delicious BBQ, outrageous style trends and all things Texas.