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Startup AGILE Space Propulsion Is 3D printing thrusters for CLPS Landers

Press Release From: AGILE Space Propulsion
Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Scoop:

Vice President Pence has declared that America will put humanity back on the moon by 2024 "by any means necessary." A small company in Durango Colorado is already well on the way to lowering the costs of moonshots by 3D printing thrusters for the first wave of robotic lunar landers.

The Backstory:

Well before the NSC announcement, AGILE Space Propulsion had already begun working with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to accelerate the development and production of one of the hardest and longest lead time systems on a lunar lander: the descent engines.

AGILE's founder Daudi Barnes began his career as a propulsion engineer at Rocketdyne working on the Space Shuttle's engines during the twilight of the program and was always fascinated by what would come next. So having grown restless in LA Daudi moved his family to the Western slopes of the Rockies to branch out on his own. As he was developing concepts for cutting edge propulsion systems and the spacecraft they would propel Daudi realized the need for a means to determine whether these new technologies would be robust enough to perform in the cold hard vacuum of space. Upon being awarded the first NASA SBIR for additively manufactured propulsion systems, Daudi founded Advanced Mobile Propulsion Test (AMPT) in 2009 and built a cost-effective, accurate, and responsive diagnostic test stand and vacuum chamber designed to facilitate lean rocket science. Since then Daudi has conducted thousands of hot-fire tests to certify experimental new engines from civil agencies like NASA and the Missile Defense Agency in addition to testing engines from private ventures in their attempts to support efforts to claim the Google Lunar X Prize. Yet rocket science is extraordinarily difficult, and developing new rocket engines on a budget is even more challenging, let alone on reasonable timelines. To create the next generation of rocket engines to enable lunar landings at low cost a different approach was needed.

To respond to this challenge, Daudi spun out a new venture with the purpose of responsively developing the in-space propulsion technologies needed to make the next generation of moonshots a reality. AGILE Space Propulsion's first thrusters went from a blank sheet of paper to development testing in a mere 6 weeks. After the company's main engine for small robotic landers received passing marks, a Space Act Agreement from NASA has enabled AGILE to further push the boundaries of additively manufacturing by developing even smaller reaction control thrusters to ensure those landers set down safely.

Why?

Under the pressure of new aggressive timelines, the need for responsive suppliers capable of delivering propulsion systems with the performance capabilities required by lunar providers is now becoming increasingly hard felt.

"For good reason, Earth's Moon has long been stigmatized as the archetype of longshots, so unfortunately for CLPS providers there hadn't been many commercial technologies developed for this niche market. At AGILE we believe that lunar commerce is the lynchpin that can kickstart a vibrant space economy. We're so fervent in this belief that AGILE Space Propulsion quite literally launched at the opportunity to make the moon the proving grounds for our deep space engines." -Julian Miller, AGILE CEO

"Satellites and other spacecraft are getting smaller, yet high-performance in-space propulsion hasn't. It's why at AGILE, we are pushing the resolution limits of additive manufacturing to make the thrusters that moonshot providers need on responsive timelines. The AGILE team is driven to help put robotic landers on the lunar surface in order to facilitate the foundational science that is needed to safely and sustainably begin bringing humanity back to the moon." -Daudi Barnes, AGILE Founder & CTO

What?

AGILE is currently hot-fire testing modular rocket engine assemblies that will be used on the next generation of lunar landers. The company is manifesting it's advanced propulsion systems using equally advanced production techniques such as DMLS, the fine-detail 3D printing of components of using powdered metal alloys and precision lasers. Currently on the test stand is AGILE's DS45, a 45N engine in development under contract with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, that uses the bi-propellant blend MON-25/MMH which is ideal for the cold hard vacuum of the lunar surface, not to mention the long treacherous voyage by which landers reach the moon.

AGILE is currently on track to have spaceflight qualified propulsion systems ready ahead of even the accelerated timelines for lunar missions that will pave the way for humanity's return to the moon.

How?

"NASA has always led the way in Lunar exploration, and in the next decade they will do so by leveraging a new generation of space transportation companies that are leaner, smarter, and more responsive than anything seen before." -Lars Osborne, AGILE Design & Development Lead

"What AGILE is doing looks similar to traditional storable propellant solutions, but we are tweaking formulas so propellant can survive colder temperatures, using new metal alloys, leveraging cutting edge 3D printing techniques, and wrapping it in a tightly-integrated testing loop that means we can innovate faster than any previous attempts." -Lars Osborne, AGILE Design & Development Lead

"What really excites us about the engines we are developing at AGILE is that they're a part of modular systems that are adaptable enough to be customized per each mission spec in order to burn down risk. AGILE can also responsively produce mission-optimized propulsion for spacecraft like orbit transfer vehicles or kick stages to make better use of the myriad of new launch vehicles becoming available. The cool thing is our propulsion systems can even be integrated into a smallsats for more responsive deployment, disposal, and replacement. The best part is that those applications are of the same thrusters AGILE is developing as main engines and RCS for Lunar Landers. That being said, next to making actual moonshots practical sooner, the opportunity that has me and the planetary science community most excited, is the fact that these very systems are also ideal for Lunar Sample Return." -Daudi Barnes, AGILE Founder & CTO

"Just like cloud service providers like AWS took care of all of the hard bits and pieces that enabled web 2.0 and mobile revolutions, AGILE Space Propulsion aspires to do the same for public, private, and philanthropic ventures joining us in creating the next great tech frontier in space." -Julian Miller, AGILE CEO

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