Houghton-Based Orbion Space Technology Raises $9.2 Million

By Amit Chowdhry ● Sep 3, 2019
  • Orbion Space Technology, a developer of next-generation smallsat propulsion systems, announced it raised $9.2 million

Orbion Space Technology — a developer of next-generation smallsat propulsion systems — announced it raised $9.2 million in Series A funding led by Material Impact. Material Impact is a venture capital firm focused on translating early-stage innovative materials technologies into products and companies that solve real-world problems. Invest Michigan, Invest Detroit, Wakestream Ventures, Ann Arbor SPARK, and Boomerang Catapult also joined the round.

This round of funding comes at a crucial time for Orbion and the space market. For example, last year Orbion announced plans to manufacture and mass-produce the first-ever Hall-effect plasma thrusters for small satellites called the Orbion Aurora system. Aurora is considered the highest-performing system of its kind in the world and will deliver the accelerated access and efficiency gains that New Space operators need to drive greater ROI for smallsat missions. In the last year, dozens of companies and government defense agencies announced plans to build and launch thousands of new small satellites all of which will require plasma thrusters.

“We at Material Impact are proud to be part of the Orbion team. We believe Orbion’s thruster technology will propel small satellites into a booming market driven by applications ranging from high-speed mobile communications to high-resolution imaging,” said Material Impact co-founder and managing partner Adam Sharkawy. “While there is also a great deal of interest in shoebox-sized cubesats, we believe that the small satellites in the 100 kg range that the Orbion thrusters can currently propel will represent the workhorse applications with the largest growth in the next 5-10 years. As a result, the smallsat market is projected to exceed $62 billion by 2030.”

Orbion’s end-to-end approach to manufacturing is unique by the way it integrates high-performance space technology, robotic assembly-line integration, and acceptance testing perfected in high-volume production environments. And this model adapts key techniques and infrastructure developed in the tactical missile industry.

Smallsat launches are expected to increase at an unprecedented rate in the coming years, but the supplier base for key technologies is not mature enough to support the projected growth.

And many of the components on new small satellites such as solar cells, batteries, and computers, can be leveraged from large established terrestrial markets and can easily satisfy the projected growth. But propulsion is a “space-only” technology that has no terrestrial counterpart and — until Orbion — there was no supplier capable of delivering hundreds or thousands of thrusters for satellites.

Along with its unique ability to manufacture at-scale, Orbion’s approach has the potential to save hundreds of millions of dollars for these operators by reducing propulsion system mass by 3 times while improving the imaging, lifespan, orbit control, and re-entry. And unlike traditional testing — which takes 6-8 months before delivery — Orbion’s manufacturing approach aims to build and ship thrusters within just 6-8 days of order.

“We’re honored to have the financial support and expertise of such key investors as Material Impact to power our progress. It’s an exciting milestone in our mission to bring modern mass-manufacturing to space technology and help New Space operators unlock their full potential,” added Orbion Space Technology CEO Dr. Lyon (Brad) King.