Portal Space Systems unveils Supernova, an ultra-mobile spacecraft

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The era of stationary spacecraft whitethorn soon beryllium over.

Portal Space Systems, a institution headed by propulsion master Jeff Thornberg, is looking to thief usher successful a caller renaissance successful in-space proscription pinch its ultra-mobile Supernova outer bus. Think of it arsenic maneuverability-as-a-service — tech that could propel transfers from debased Earth orbit to geostationary orbit successful a matter of hours.

The 500-kg Supernova is designed to beryllium payload agnostic and to past connected orbit for astatine slightest 5 years while being continuously maneuvered, nan institution said. It’s a acold outcry from bequest spacecraft, which are built to transportation only arsenic overmuch propulsion arsenic will beryllium needed to support their orbit. Portal’s designed a caller propulsion system, called solar-thermal propulsion, that will nutrient a monolithic delta-V of 6 kilometers per second, to alteration accelerated transportation to cislunar space, aliases arsenic maneuverable assets to support nationalist information missions.

Portal was founded by abstraction manufacture veterans Jeff Thornburg, COO Ian Vorbach and VP of engineering Prashaanth Ravindran. Thornburg’s profession sounds for illustration a history of nan abstraction manufacture writ large. Spanning astir 30 years, it includes stints astatine fundamentally ever awesome aerospace organization: arsenic a subject serviceman successful nan Air Force; moving connected liquid rocket motor tech astatine Aerojet; 5 years astatine SpaceX, wherever he yet became nan 2nd VP of propulsion engineering; moving pinch storied entrepreneur Paul Allen astatine Stratolaunch; and arsenic a head astatine Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

“Then I decided I didn’t really want nan large institution manner and really wanted to excavation successful connected immoderate problems that were not being addressed by immoderate different business, and truthful my cofounders and I founded portal abstraction systems successful November of 2021,” he said. “It’s nan only clip I consciousness for illustration I’ve been capable to foretell nan future, moreover close.”

Given that he has spent astir of his profession successful motorboat conveyance improvement and propulsion, he started reasoning astir what would travel adjacent successful nan manufacture aft SpaceX cracked nan codification connected affordable, rapid, reliable launch. He noticed different trends, too: pinch much spacecraft launched to orbit than ever before, on-orbit collisions go much likely. On nan defense side, Thornburg besides started seeing much of a nationalist information liking successful responsive abstraction capabilities and nan expertise for satellites to maneuver ‘without regret.’

But satellites aren’t designed for moving astir a batch successful orbit; successful general, they are launched pinch capable on-board propulsion to support them successful their intended orbit, not to dodge different objects, and surely not pinch retired delta-V capacity to spell to higher orbit. Supernova is portion of a caller procreation of spacecraft that are looking to alteration that.

The institution has developed Supernova’s propulsion strategy in-house. The solar-thermal strategy leverages bequest tech designed by NASA and nan the Department of Defense, while innovating circumstantial subsystems to optimize for ngo performance. For example, nan institution is bringing a proprietary power exchanger to that star thermal propulsion strategy to present moreover higher capacity complete a longer lifespan.

“I deliberation nan large forcing usability present for commercialized is conscionable nan proliferation of these LEO constellations that they person to maneuver around, and nan forcing usability for nan DOD is China and nan early engagement that group judge we’re going to person pinch them complete Taiwan and different issues. Both of those things person travel together astatine nan aforesaid time, which has created nan opportunity that I was hoping for, but didn’t rather foretell it being this significant.”

Portal has raised an undisclosed magnitude of task backing from unnamed backers, and nan first Supernova improvement is afloat funded, nan institution said. The squad has besides won complete $3 cardinal crossed 5 awards from nan Space Force and nan DOD, including a direct-to-phase II SBIR that’s focused specifically connected processing responsive abstraction operations.

Portal is aiming to behaviour an in-flight objection successful precocious 2025 aliases early 2026. But earlier that ngo moreover launches, Thornburg said nan startup is looking to standard its squad — which stands astatine astir 25 people, but anticipates will swell to up to 200 successful 25 years — and turn manufacturing to support nan accumulation of aggregate spacecraft per twelvemonth aft that first demonstration.