Ienai Space Secures Funding to Demonstrate Electrospray Thrusters

Spanish small satellite propulsion developer Ienai Space has successfully raised 3.9 million euros ($4.2 million) to initiate the demonstration of its electrospray thrusters in low Earth orbit by the end of this year. The funding brings the total raised by the five-year-old startup to approximately seven million euros, supporting the development of its ATHENA propulsion system.

ATHENA: A Modular Propulsion System

The ATHENA system, or Adaptable THruster based on Electrospray for NAnosatellite, is a compact propulsion solution designed for small satellites weighing between three and 50 kilograms. Measuring about 10 centimeters per side, ATHENA utilizes electricity to disperse liquid salts, achieving a thrust-to-power ratio of 30-50 micronewtons per watt.

Successful Design Review and Market Interest

Ienai Space CEO and co-founder, Daniel Grande, announced the recent funding success following a European Space Agency (ESA) preliminary design review. The review included a nearly 400-hour firing of the thruster, marking the longest publicized test of an ionic-liquid electrospray thruster in Europe.

Grande noted significant interest from European satellite manufacturers, with quote requests totaling around 30 million euros, primarily from the Earth observation sector. He also expressed optimism about gaining traction in the United States and other international markets.

Early Flight Demonstrations

Ienai plans to commence commercial deliveries of its thrusters next year, contingent on successful in-orbit demonstrations. The first demonstrator will be integrated into a spacecraft from Dutch cubesat maker ISIS Space, scheduled to launch on the second flight of Europe’s Ariane 6 rocket around the end of 2024.

A separate ATHENA demonstrator is slated for an early 2025 flight aboard a spacecraft from Bulgaria’s Endurosat. This mission, also involving Portuguese space traffic management provider Neuraspace, will aim to demonstrate a collision avoidance system and is set to launch on the second flight of German rocket developer Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum vehicle.

Expanding Capabilities and Team

While preparing for these missions, Ienai is close to launching a mission analysis software tool for satellite designers, anticipated to generate early revenue. The additional funds will also facilitate the expansion of Ienai’s team from 22 to 30 members this year, across its facilities in Spain and Sweden.

Investment and Support

The latest seed round was led by Spanish early-stage investor GED Capital, with substantial backing from Spain’s CETI, a publicly supported investor that matches private investments. This funding round underscores strong confidence in Ienai Space’s innovative propulsion technology and its potential impact on the small satellite market.

Competitive Landscape

Ienai Space joins a competitive field of electrospray satellite propulsion developers, including Boston-based Accion Systems, acquired by New York venture capital firm Tracker Capital in 2021, and Ion-X of France. With its recent funding and upcoming demonstrations, Ienai is well-positioned to make significant strides in the satellite propulsion industry.

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