A startup with a brand new kind 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 creating 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 trade to utterly new kinds of missions that weren’t attainable earlier than, with out resorting to a lot bigger, costly and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make quick and reasonably priced interplanetary house journey attainable, in addition to operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would additionally make orbital manufacturing much more attainable than beforehand.
Current 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 quicker for longer. This might open up the trade to new house missions, equivalent to a satellite tv for pc (or X-wing fighter?) that may make a number of, quick maneuvers, with out worrying about conserving gasoline. As a way to do that proper now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a major payload in gasoline for launch. A 200kg satellite tv for pc would require 50kg of hydrazine gasoline, which might value £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 could possibly be a cornerstone for creating 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 goals of house journey, they determined to construct a small scale thruster for satellites.
However Magdrive isn’t alone. Different corporations are creating so-called ‘Corridor Impact Thrusters’, which is a know-how that has existed because the 1960’s. A lot of the event is in the direction of miniaturization and mass discount, however thrust and effectivity stay the identical. These corporations embrace Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. In the meantime, giant worldwide corporations with enormous know-how portfolios are engaged on enhancing chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to deal with, equivalent to Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.
They plan to scale up our know-how 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 reasonably priced than a chemical or nuclear answer, as a result of enormous discount in gasoline prices, and since it’s reusable.
Andrew J Scott, Founding Companion, 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. Whereas the UK’s experience in setting up satellites is world-renowned, there was far much less concentrate on propulsion. In reality, Nice 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 grow to be a world-beating firm on this burgeoning sector.”
The satellite tv for pc trade is price $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 as a result of 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 House Company Enterprise Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.