ExoTerra wins NASA contract for solar electric upper stage it designs with Virgin Orbit

A render of the ExoTerra solar electric propulsion system (courtesy of ExoTerra Resource)

Nasa awarded a SBIR (Phase II Small Business Innovation Research) award to a Colorado-based space technology company ExoTerra resource (ExoTerra) to produce upper stages of solar electric propulsion for microsatellites and micro landers to reach geostationary orbit (GEO).

ExoTerra is currently developing an upper stage motor in partnership with Virgin orbit which is designed to deliver 150 kg payload to cis-lunar orbit and 180 kg to GEO. ExoTerra CEO Michael VanWoerkom said the new electric upper stages could open up new small satellite capabilities for NASA during interplanetary missions beyond low earth orbit (LEO).

The new price comes exactly one year after ExoTerra won a NASA SBIR Phase I contract for its solar electric propulsion technology, and in partnership with Virgin Orbit and Advanced space to advance the design of the upper floor. The systems designed by ExoTerra are expected to fly on several government, civil and commercial space missions throughout the next year.

“This award ties directly into our development roadmap,” said Dan Hart, CEO of Virgin Orbit. “This is exciting technology that we look forward to incorporating into LauncherOne to better serve customers in a wide range of communities: scientific, academic, government, business, and more. Small satellites have become powerful tools for business, research and education, and they too deserve an affordable and flexible space route beyond LEO. “

Financial details of the awards were not disclosed.


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