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Magdrive to develop new electric plasma propulsion system for small satellites in low Earth orbit

NEWS: Project will help Magdrive to develop an in-space demonstration model and commercialise new technology for global space sector

Funding from SPRINT programme will enable collaboration with University of Southampton on testing of prototype

Magdrive has signed up to the national SPRINT business support programme to accelerate the development of its revolutionary space propulsion systems for small satellites. SPRINT funding will enable Magdrive to collaborate with the University of Southampton on testing the company’s prototype system. This will help Magdrive to develop an in-space demonstration model and commercialise the new technology for the global space sector.

Magdrive is based at the Westcott Business Incubation Centre in Aylesbury and will work with the University of Southampton to test and develop prototypes for a new electric plasma space propulsion system. The system will offer significantly improved thrust compared to other electric propulsion systems, while offering high efficiencies that chemical propulsion systems lack. This will allow for extended small satellite lifetimes and for new mission types such as rendezvousing with larger satellites, constellation management, and deorbiting.

The project will be funded by a grant from the £4.8 million SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) programme that provides unprecedented access to university space expertise and facilities. SPRINT helps businesses though the commercial exploitation of space data and technologies.

The current prototype thruster hardware will be tested using the University of Southampton’s vacuum chamber and optimised with the aid of expertise in magneto-hydrodynamics (MHD) simulations. The University will provide Magdrive with expert capabilities including:
• David Fearn Electric Propulsion Laboratory and Thermal Vacuum Test Facility
• µ-VIS High Resolution X-Ray Computed Tomography (CT)
• Spacecraft Environmental Vibration Test Facility
• Non-equilibrium plasma simulation
• IRIDIS 5 High Performance Computing System

Mark Stokes, CEO of Magdrive said: “As a new start-up company, we became aware of the opportunity of the SPRINT programme funding through networking at the Westcott Business Incubation Centre. SPRINT offers a truly amazing opportunity that we didn’t expect to exist. We don’t have the plasma expertise that the University can deliver and they’re demonstrably interested in the success of the project.

“The rigidity and support of the University and SPRINT will provide us with external validation, higher reliability and trust that are hugely important, both in terms of credibility when securing further grant funding and talking to potential future investors, but also in helping us to roll out our product roadmap, design the next prototype and drive towards a commercial system.”

Minkwan Kim, Lecturer in Astronautics within Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Southampton added: “The University will bring expertise in the forms of our propulsion testing facility and plasma simulations capability. This will put us a unique position as it will be the first time that we’ve brought both of these capabilities together in the same project.

“The Magdrive project will be our first project based on simulating plasma propulsion and a first for this industry. Similar simulation techniques have been used in electrical engineering and the military sectors, providing us with the confidence that we can help Magdrive to commercialise this new product for space.”