The groundbreaking propulsion technology provides thrust typically six times faster and eight times cheaper than electric systems, and enables vehicles to carry payloads several times larger than those using chemical rocket thrusters.
This capability opens up the opportunity for greater access to space and to accelerate space business ecosystem development. The contract will fund exploration of the propulsion system's product-market fit for a range of government and commercial customers.
This is the company's first SBIR award specifically for Omnivore and follows several million dollars of prior funding, including SBIR/STTR awards from the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The Omnivore thruster uses solar reflectors to focus highly concentrated sunlight onto a solar absorber located inside the thruster. The absorber in-turn superheats the propellant, so that it can expand and accelerate in the rocket's nozzle providing the safest and most efficient thrust available on the market.
"This contract reinforces the value of TransAstra's breakthrough technology and underscores how Omnivore will enable critical missions for NASA, the Department of Defense, and the private sector," said Dr. Joel Sercel, TransAstra CEO.
"This is because Omnivore is significantly faster and less expensive than electric propulsion and can use ordinary tap water or many other safe, non-toxic fluids as propellant. These factors make Omnivore the cleanest, safest, and most affordable propulsion system available or in development."
The Omnivore thruster is designed to propel the company's Worker Bee space tugs. Because of the thruster's capabilities, Worker Bee tugs can deploy full satellite constellations in days instead of the months required by other systems.
"Partly because Omnivore is less massive at launch than chemical systems, it provides more affordable access to final destinations such as geostationary and cislunar orbits," Dr. Sercel noted.
"This contract opens the doors to understanding how the system can be used and optimized across the space ecosystem. It offers reduced reliance on large-rocket rideshares and unleashes the opportunity for our private and government customers to facilitate their own launches faster and more economically, which translates into accelerated revenue generation."
TransAstra conducts research on Omnivore at their state-of-the-art laboratory in Los Angeles which houses two large vacuum chambers for solar powered rocket testing. The company has completed successful tests on the propulsion system at the facility using a variety of propellants.
TransAstra calculates that when Omnivore operates using liquid hydrogen propellant it will perform similarly to nuclear rockets, but without nuclear materials, costs, or risk. TransAstra performed Omnivore's early development under NASA NIAC funding and is now readying the technology for flight demonstration and mission applications.
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