Accion Systems has obtained a controlling share in Tracker Capital, a venture capital firm affiliated with the consortium that purchased hypersonic vehicle maker Stratolaunch. After spearheading Accion Systems’ $42 million investment round, New York-based Tracker Capital acquired 51 percent of the company, paving the way for the company’s aspirations to grow its TILE (Tiled Ionic Liquid Electrospray) thrusters for larger satellites.
Stephen Feinberg, who serves as co-CEO and the co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, which acquired Stratolaunch in 2019, formed the investing firm. Before inventor Paul Allen died, Stratolaunch worked on an air-launch technology for lofting satellites, which led to its sale to Cerberus.
The company and the huge carrier aircraft that underlies it — the world’s largest plane with a wingspan of 385 feet — were repackaged by the private equity firm to serve as a foundation for hypersonic vehicles. Although Stratolaunch has refocused its efforts on the Talon-A vehicle, which will deploy from the plane to evaluate hypersonic technology, the company still has aspirations for the reusable spaceplane.
Following Accion Systems’ Series C fundraising round, which valued the company at $83.5 million, Tracker Capital will represent half of the 10-person board. Accion Systems Chief Executive Officer Peter Kant said the business hasn’t spoken with Stratolaunch yet, but Tracker Capital regards the propulsion company as a key component of its space projects. In an interview, Kant explained, “The Accion business strategy is about transporting and navigating anything in space.”
He claims that its scalable thrusters are entering to market as the propulsion sector evolves, from how to send satellites into space and then keep them in a low-Earth-orbit position to today when megaconstellations and servicers are boosting demand for moving items around in space.
TILE generates thrust by accelerating an ionized liquid salt with electric fields, which Accion Systems claims is safer and more effective than electric propulsion options. The thrusters can be organized in various ways within a spacecraft, from main propulsion for tiny satellites to torque balance for bigger spacecraft. In addition to the station-keeping and de-orbit movements, TILE can be configured to allow rendezvous and proximity operations.
Kant claims that its thrusters are now in orbit on two newly deployed spacecraft: two propulsion modules on an Astro Digital cubesat and one on a NanoAvionics cubesat proving technologies for a NASA program. According to him, the two satellites utilize TILE 2 and TILE 3 propulsion systems, which are “intended for cubesats and nano” with modest thrust requirements. The TILE 3 system features 24 Accion Systems thruster chips on its 1U face, each around the size of a postage stamp.