Space propulsion company Accion Systems of Boston has landed $42 million in new investment, as the firm prepares its next generation of ion thruster modules for small satellites. Tracker Capital Management led the round, and has acquired a majority stake in the company.
Founded in 2014 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers Natalya Bailey and Louis Perna, Accion makes small thrusters that use an electric current to turn a liquid propellant into a stream of ionized gas. The result is gentle but effective thrust that can be used to adjust a satellite’s orbit or slow it down at the end of its life, so it can fall harmlessly back to earth.
Accion’s thrusters were first launched in 2018 on a small “CubeSat” assembled by a team of high school students in Irvine, Calif. The company has since developed second- and third-generation thrusters, which were used on a pair of satellites launched last month. The money raised in the new funding round will go into the development of a fourth-generation ion thruster.
Dallas Kasaboski, principal analyst with Northern Sky Research, a Boston aerospace consulting firm, called the deal “a pretty firm vote of confidence” in Accion’s technology.
Kasaboski said up to 24,000 satellites are expected to be launched over the next decade. While many will be large and heavy, thousands of others will be much smaller, as more companies launch “constellations” of multiple lightweight and relatively cheap satellites.
“A lot of these small [satellites], they don’t have propulsion,” said Kasaboski, “and if they do it’s very minimal.” With Accion’s technology, designers could add inexpensive thrusters to their satellites, making them more maneuverable and perhaps extending their useful lifespans.