- Satellite Evolution
Benchmark Space Systems to acquire AASC’s metal plasma thruster tech, empowering hybrid propulsion
With hybrid vehicle sales at an all-time high on Earth, Benchmark Space Systems today announced a definitive agreement to acquire Alameda Applied Sciences Corporation (AASC)’s electric propulsion technologies to help power hybrid spacecraft designed to ultimately run on in-space resources and repurposed space debris.
Benchmark’s turn-key hybrid chemical + electric propulsion systems will leverage the high thrust capabilities of its non-toxic chemical Halcyon HTP propulsion systems and the precision manoeuvrability of its Xantus metal plasma thrusters (MPTs), a core part of the newly named electric propulsion technology acquired from AASC.
The hybrid propulsion solution will deliver unprecedented operational versatility across cubesats, microsats, ESPAs, and OTVs by leveraging Benchmark’s DEVO propulsion controller with SmartAIM™ Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) software aboard the flight-proven Halcyon system and the new Xantus EP metal plasma thrusters. The bundled solution will efficiently and effectively support a broad range of in-space applications, including speedy, ROI-boosting rapid insertion, satellite station-keeping, precision pointing, controlled de-orbiting, collision avoidance, and rendezvous, proximity operations (RPO).
The Xantus metal plasma thrusters, which can single-handedly address most cubesat missions, will be an integral tool for microsat mission optimization with high efficiency ‘cruise control’ functionality for station keeping, mission extension, and ultra-precise pointing operations.
Benchmark’s technology and product roadmap leads to a prominent role in future On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing (OSAM) operations, where AASC’s MPT technology will support in-space proximity and docking operations.
The Halcyon + Xantus hybrid packages are engineered to ultimately incorporate in-space resource utilization (ISRU) techniques to enable a sustainable space ecosystem. Benchmark’s hydrogen-peroxide (HTP) systems are designed to one day refuel on orbit with propellant created from space ice and water, while the AASC-developed MPTs will replenish in flight with metal harvested from unwanted and problematic orbital space debris – enabled by a set of breakthrough capabilities being demonstrated in space by fellow OSAM pioneers.
Part of Benchmark’s electric propulsion strategy, the AASC MPT acquisition follows an in-depth global evaluation of leading EP technology specialists. AASC’s metal plasma thruster technology is extremely robust and well packaged, nearing production phase, integral to NASA’s Artemis mission, and scheduled to earn flight heritage during a US Space Force demonstration mission (RROCI) later this year aboard an Orion Space Solutions satellite.
“By bringing together Benchmark’s flight-proven chemical propulsion systems with AASC’s unmatched metal plasma thruster technologies, EP expertise and systems, we can now enable missions to arrive on station faster for at least a 10x ROI, with both high thrust and high impulse capability for the balance of operations. This is somewhat analogous to hybrid vehicles here on earth that combine efficiency and range capability, and this partnership supports Benchmark’s OSAM and ISRU ambitions that will accelerate the feasibility and deployment of important space economy initiatives,” said Chris Carella, Benchmark’s Executive Vice President of Business Development and Strategy. “Space exploration and innovation is helping to solve real-world challenges on Earth, and Benchmark is dedicated to the development and delivery of sustainable chemical, electric, and hybrid engines to power these exciting new possibilities.”
Satellite operators will no longer have to make compromises due to budget, with pre-integrated turn-key systems they can take advantage of full hybrid propulsion capabilities and functionality at similar total costs to single-system alternatives. Benchmark can increase ROI on any mission, where the status quo for 90% of the market is to compromise and make a choice between speed and endurance.
“Benchmark Space Systems clearly has the team, technology, capitalization and global momentum with its flight-proven chemical propulsion systems, and this strategic merger of Benchmark and AASC capabilities will enable us to ramp up hybrid and cubesat system production to enable upcoming missions,” said Dr. Mahadevan Krishnan, President of Alameda Applied Sciences Corporation. “We are thrilled to be joining the Benchmark team as we leverage the combined innovations of both companies and Benchmark’s DEVO electronics platform to optimize integration and flexibility of electric, chemical, and hybrid propulsion systems to enable current and future applications in space.”
Benchmark announced earlier this year that it has tripled its U.S. production capacity and doubled U.S. manufacturing and technical staff to meet big demand for its Starling and Halcyon chemical propulsion systems. The company has scaled up to build more than 150 systems over an eighteen-month period to enable in-space mobility and manoeuvrability aboard a spectrum of spacecraft integral to the new space economy and a broad range of LEO, GEO, and cislunar missions.
Benchmark is also close to initiating production at its new UK manufacturing and testing facility in partnership with Satellite Applications Catapult at the Westcott Innovation Centre in Aylesbury, England, home of the UK’s propulsion research and development.
Benchmark’s scalable, launch vehicle agnostic propulsion products and services suite support a broad spectrum of spacecraft – from 3U cubesats through ESPA-class (3-500kg) satellites, lunar landers, spent launcher stages, and orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs), which will enable a broad range of in-space services and capabilities supporting the space economy and ecosystem.