ExoTerra to Become First Privately Owned Space Company to Fly to an Asteroid

Solar electric propulsion system. (Credit: ExoTerra Resources)

LITTLETON, Colo., March 27, 2017 (Exoterra PR) — NASA has awarded ExoTerra Corporation a $2.5M contract to demonstrate a novel solar electric propulsion system for CubeSats that will enable the shoebox-sized spacecraft to triple their available power and produce over 2.5 km/s of propulsion.

Under the “Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies” award, ExoTerra will use the mission-enabling capability to fly a CubeSat past an asteroid and become the first privately owned company to fly beyond the Moon. The mission will both demonstrate the solar electric propulsion technology in space for the first time, and support our partner, Deep Space Industries, in their efforts to locate asteroids suitable for mining.

“We are shrinking the size of interplanetary satellites to enable NASA to perform more science at a substantially lower cost,” noted Mike VanWoerkom, Founder of ExoTerra. “The successful demonstration of the technology will enable NASA to perform future missions to asteroids or other inner solar system destinations at costs orders of magnitude below current missions.”

The mission has ramifications for the commercial industry as well. ExoTerra’s Halo Hall Effect Thruster is less than half the size of competing systems and enables CubeSats to perform long-term orbit control for the first time. When combined with the high-power solar array, it enables CubeSats to perform reliable commercial operations with more capable sensor packages.

ExoTerra is partnered with Deep Space Industries and Advanced Solutions Inc. on the project. They are scheduled to launch in late 2019. For more information about this NASA contract, see https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-establishes-new-public-private-partnerships-to-advance-us-commercial-space.

About ExoTerra Resources Corporation: ExoTerra is a small business located in Littleton, Colorado. Founded in 2011, the company is focused on reducing the cost of space exploration and commercial space through miniaturization, high efficiency, and in-situ resource utilization. The company has successfully completed several NASA, Air Force, and commercial contracts regarding microsatellites, solar electric propulsion and in-situ propellant production. For more information, see www.exoterracorp.com.

  • Aerospike

    Would love to know how many “U”s that propulsion unit occupies and the size (in cubesat units) of the demonstration mission.

  • JamesG

    Yeah… Its hard to gauge its scale based upon that incomplete CAD drawing.

    While the propulsion is interesting, its really just an exercise in miniaturization. The real question is if its going to also be able to carry any instruments (even just a cam) and what kind of communications gear they can also cram into a cubesat. Its not really practical if the spacecraft is “deaf and dumb” because it can’t carry an adequate deep space transceiver.

  • Vladislaw

    “ExoTerra’s Integrated Solar Electric Propulsion System is built around the Halo Hall effect thruster, adding an iodine propellant tank and propellant management system, power processing unit, thrust-vector control actuators and electronics, battery, solar arrays, and array deployment and gimbal mechanisms. The standard configuration delivers up to 1 km/s ΔV to a 14 kg, 6U CubeSat.

    ExoTerra’s solar arrays generate 250 W (BOL), nearly 3x the state of the art for CubeSat power systems – enabling high-power applications previously out of the reach of CubeSats.

    The standard design can be reconfigured to suit smallsats of similar or larger size. Larger propellant tanks can be used to increase ΔV if additional volume is available.”


    “Exoterra’s Deployable Solar Arrays offers 300W of power (BOL and 150W EOL). For a 6U CubeSat, this is 3X greater than others in this category. This type of power opens several doors for Micro-Satellites. Opportunities like science missions, telecom, imagery, and mapping are all accessible with this power thirsty array.

    The size of the array coupled with the power capabilities make this a CubeSat dream. The stowed wing is 16mm thick taking up only .85U per wing along a 6U x 1U side. In it’s stowed configuration it is able to draw power from the exposed cells (18W BOL). The deployed array is 366mm x 1256mm.”


    I would imagine that all told it might be in the 10 to 12U ?

  • JamesG

    So more small sat than actual cube sat.

  • duheagle

    The part between the folded solar panels looks to be 12U. Your research says the folded solar panels are .85U each. That makes a total of 13.7U. Very compact. And the 12U portion is not fully utilized. Looks like plenty of room to put in a bigger propellant tank for more delta-V.

  • Aerospike

    Thanks for digging out the information!