5 mins read 04 Feb 2022

Valiant Space confirm thruster demonstrator mission

Valiant Space will test new propellant for its flagship thruster, VS-1 in June 2022 when it is launched into space as part of the Skykraft rideshare service. 

Last year Valiant Space successfully completed a hot fire test of its in-space chemical thruster. Credit: Valiant Space.

Queensland-based Valiant Space have confirmed that they will be launching a payload onboard the Skykraft, Skyride mission set for launch in June 2022. The Skyride mission will be part of SpaceX’s smallsat rideshare program which uses Falcon 9 rockets to deploy a variety of payloads into sun-synchronous orbits.   

Valiant’s payload will focus on testing a new propellant valve developed for their flagship thruster, the VS-1. The thruster payload was fitted to the Skykraft satellite last week in readiness for the launch in June, clearing the way for environmental testing to commence. This process entails the satellite undergoing a number of tests to ensure it can withstand the rigours of launching to space.

“We’re very excited for this flight,” said Andrew Uscinski, the CEO and co-founder of Valiant Space. “It’s an important step towards building customer confidence in the VS-1’s performance.”

The flight testing will form part of the companies drive to increase the maturity of their product and by demonstrating the valve in space, the company will significantly lower the risk of a key component of the thruster.

“Without flight heritage, you don't know for sure that these systems are going to work. So that's why we've partnered here with Skykraft to get a component of our thruster, one of the more complex components, which is this valve that we've developed in house, flown into space with them as part of their Skyride rideshare service,” said Uscinski of the mission.

From Canbera to Rideshare Services in Space

The SkyKraft Majura, which will be used to support space based air traffic management services. Credit: SkyKraft.

Canberra-based Skykraft is a spin-off from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Canberra’s space program. The company specialises in the design, manufacture, and operation of SmallSat constellations for the delivery of global services as well as rideshare services. The rideshare service, Skyride, lets space technology companies focus on testing and development rather than managing dedicated spacecraft. This allows for a variety of formats from circuit boards to 3U CubeSats.   

Skykraft have worked with a number of Australian aerospace and manufacturing companies including another company that started as a UNSW Canberra spin-off, Infinity Avionics, to develop its spacecraft. 

In December 2021 the company announced they had closed a funding round of /$3.5 Million with investors including, Allan Moss (former CEO of Macquarie Group) and Adcock Private Equity to deliver a world-first global satellite constellation for space-based Air Traffic Management. The capital was used to design, build and launch the Block II validation satellites which will also be launched on the Falcon 9 rideshare mission. The launch which will be their first will consist of a 300-kilogram satellite payload. This follows the successful completion of rigorous ground testing and validation of its Block I SmallSat (Majura) in June 2021.

According to Uscinski, the thruster will attach to a space Skykraft satellite BUS that they are offering as part of their Skyride services program. The two organisations have been working together as part of an Australian Space Agency program and saw an alignment of interests. 

“We would be able to demonstrate something that would be important to us to demonstrate in space, and they had the space available on their satellite BUS and so we are going to space as part of that,” he said.

 “We’re looking forward to continuing our collaboration with Valiant on our shared interests in building and flying the next generation of space technologies that are being developed right here in Australia,” said Retired Air Vice Marshal Mark Skidmore, Skykraft’s executive chairman.

Chemical Thruster

The propellant valve which has been fitted to the Skykraft satellite due to be launched onboard the SpaceX Falcon 9 in June this year. Credit: Valiant. Space

Valiant was awarded \$200,000 by the Australian Space Agency as part of the Moon to Mars initiative. The grant allowed the company to develop its VS-1 in-space thruster for the growing small satellite market. In-space chemical thrusters like the VS-1 are required for a wide range of manoeuvres, including for orbit insertion, orbit maintenance, collision avoidance, and de-orbiting, and are critical for conducting deep space missions.

The company is developing a non-toxic chemical thruster that combines the non-toxic benefits of Electric or ION thrusters and the instantaneous thrust of chemical systems. 

According to Uscinski, the valve that they will be testing has been developed completely from scratch by Valiant, which will aim to cut not only the cost of the parts but also the lead time. 

The valve itself is a critical component of the thruster, being able to control the flow of propellants to the engine. It has been tailored to meet the specific needs of the thruster, so being able to test it in the space environment means exciting times for the team. 

“We are going to let it sit there and make sure that it doesn't leak, so that's sort of one of the first important task and then after that test will then be actuating the valve in a number of different ways. This will then allow us to see how reliable it is and ultimately after we've activated a few times whether or not it's still able to seal the valve just as well as before,” said Uscinski of the testing program.

The mission will mark the start of a campaign to build spaceflight heritage on the thruster, with additional missions being developed that will see more Valiant hardware launching to space towards the end of 2022 and start of 2023.

“[We have] a campaign that is being kicked off with this first component, but there will be more flights throughout this year and the other flights that we're looking at are more towards flying the full assembly of the full thruster itself, so actually demonstrating the performance of the thruster in space,” concluded Uscinski.