A startup with a brand new sort of spacecraft propulsion system may make the interplanetary journey seen in Star Trek a actuality. Magdrive has simply closed a £1.4M seed spherical led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.
Magdrive is growing a subsequent era of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and effectivity are a “generational leap” forward of every other electrical thrusters, opening up the house business to utterly new sorts of missions that weren’t potential earlier than, with out resorting to a lot bigger, costly and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make quick and inexpensive interplanetary house journey potential, in addition to operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would additionally make orbital manufacturing much more potential than beforehand.
Existing electrical options are very environment friendly however have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have excessive thrust however lack effectivity and are hazardous and costly to deal with. Magdrive says its engine can ship each excessive thrust and excessive effectivity in a single system.
If it really works, the Magdrive engine may make spacecraft go sooner for longer. This may open up the business to new house missions, reminiscent of a satellite tv for pc (or X-wing fighter?) that may make a number of, quick maneuvers, with out worrying about conserving gas. In order to do that proper now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a major payload in gas for launch. A 200kg satellite tv for pc would require 50kg of hydrazine gas, which might price £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.
Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, engaged on superior electromagnetic fields. He realized this might be a cornerstone for growing a plasma thruster that would obtain the accelerations required for interplanetary house journey. After assembly Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with related desires of house journey, they determined to construct a small scale thruster for satellites.
But Magdrive just isn’t alone. Other firms are growing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a expertise that has existed because the 1960’s. Much of the event is in direction of miniaturization and mass discount, however thrust and effectivity stay the identical. These firms embody Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, giant worldwide firms with enormous expertise portfolios are engaged on bettering chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to deal with, reminiscent of Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.
They plan to scale up our expertise to energy bigger manned spacecraft (as soon as in orbit) to long-distance locations such because the Moon and Mars. Our system would current a way more inexpensive than a chemical or nuclear answer, as a result of enormous discount in gas prices, and since it’s reusable.
Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we search founding groups with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this isn’t only a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will quickly be powering satellites, however sooner or later may take us to deep house. While the UK’s experience in setting up satellites is world-renowned, there was far much less give attention to propulsion. In truth, Great Britain is the one nation to have efficiently developed after which, within the 1970’s deserted, an indigenous satellite tv for pc launch functionality, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s house sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one in every of a brand new era of British house startups, which has the imaginative and prescient and ambition to turn into a world-beating firm on this burgeoning sector.”
The satellite tv for pc business is value $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to develop to USD$30Billion by 2030, as a result of rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are resulting from be launched within the subsequent two years and 75% of all the businesses launching these satellites have already flown one thing in house.
Magdrive is on the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.