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ExoTerra Wins NASA Contract for Solar Electric Upper Stage it’s Designing With Virgin Orbit

By | June 2, 2021

A rendering of ExoTerra’s Solar Electric Propulsion system (courtesy of ExoTerra Resource)

NASA awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to Colorado-based space technology company ExoTerra Resource (ExoTerra) to produce solar electric propulsion upper stages for microsatellites and micro-landers to reach Geostationary Orbit (GEO).

ExoTerra is currently developing an upper stage engine in partnership with Virgin Orbit that is designed to deliver 150 kg of payload to cis-lunar orbit and 180 kg to GEO. ExoTerra’s CEO Michael VanWoerkom said the new electric upper stages could open up new small satellite capabilities for NASA during interplanetary missions beyond Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).

The new award comes exactly one year after ExoTerra won a NASA Phase I SBIR contract for its solar electric propulsion technology, and partnered with Virgin Orbit and Advanced Space to advance the design of the upper stage. The ExoTerra-designed systems are slated to fly on several government, civil space, and commercial missions throughout the next year.

“This award falls squarely on our development roadmap,” said Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart. “It’s an exciting technology that we’re looking forward to integrating with LauncherOne in order to better serve customers across a broad set of communities: scientific, academic, government, commercial, and more. Small satellites have become powerful tools for business, research and education, and they too deserve an affordable, flexible route to space beyond just LEO.”

Financial details of the awards were not disclosed.