Startup Momentus successfully tests water plasma propulsion in orbit

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In-space transportation startup Momentus has successfully tested its water plasma propulsion system in orbit, Futurism reports. The company designs spacecraft to chauffeur satellites to different levels of orbit⁠—sort of like Uber for satellites.

According to the Silicon Valley startup, this is the first time that water plasma propulsion has occurred in space. Momentus pulled off the feat using its Vigoride transportation spacecraft to maneuver the El Camino Real CubeSat.

A Momentus Fleet

Momentus’ Virgoride system uses water as fuel to run microwave electrothermal thrusters. The small spacecraft can move satellites from where ride-share rockets drop them off (typically in low-Earth orbit) to their intended level. In addition, Vigoride can also launch from International Space Station (ISS) airlocks and other EELV secondary payload adapters. Momentus has developed various incarnations of Virgoride that cater specifically to certain payload masses and orbital paths.

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For example, the original Vigoride spacecraft can maneuver satellites up to 250 kilograms. It can also move spacecraft from ISS orbit up to 2000 kilometers. Vigoride Extended can handle payloads up to 300 kilograms from low earth orbit (LEO) to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Vigoride Extended can also move payloads of up to 100 kilograms from LEO to a geostationary orbit (GEO) and even to Lunar orbits. The “mighty” Ardoride can truck payloads up to four tons from GTO to GEO and up to 500 kilograms from LEO to GEO and beyond.

Impressive Operations

With the El Camino Real mission, Momentus hopes to appeal to companies and investors who are looking to launch into space at a low cost. So far, the startup has raised $34 million to continue developing Vigoride and Vigoride Extended.

“The purpose of the El Camino Real mission was to flight demonstrate our core propulsion technology so customers, investors and stakeholders can have absolute confidence that Momentus will deliver their payloads to a given orbit,” Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich said. “Some early results have already been shared with our stakeholders, which include customers,” he added.

Customers, investors, and stakeholders can rest assured. Vigoride has already shown promise in being able to navigate in-space problems. In one of its operations, water froze in the spacecraft’s propulsion lines.

“The system proved to be highly resilient and post-freezing, all units were successfully verified to operate as expected,” Kokorich said. The El Camino Real mission also tested avionics, flight software, altitude sensors, microwaves, and power systems. “El Camino Real has performed numerous hot thruster firings on-orbit since it launched in early July and the company has collected a wealth of valuable telemetry.”

Deep Space Fervor

So, what’s next for the intrepid startup? Momentus is currently developing its Fervoride spacecraft. Fervoride sets its sights on deep space. The company’s website claims that the new spacecraft can “deliver any payload within the inner solar system.”

Thus, one can imagine Momentus’ spacecraft as extremely useful in navigating the asteroid belt. Asteroids are rich in a myriad of resources. One day, Momentus may play an integral part in future space mining operations.