Masten Space Systems Wins NASA Contract
ANTELOPE VALLEY, Calif. -- When it comes to launching satellites into space, a Mojave-based company is pushing the envelope on technology and catching the attention of NASA.
Masten Space Systems was one of eight companies recently selected by the space agency to develop technology for small launch vehicles going into low orbit.
“This is the first prototype version of what we call the Broadsword 25 and it’s a 25,000 pound thrust engine,” described Jake Teufert, a lead propulsion research engineer for Masten Space Systems as he pointed to the engine.
That thrust is enough power to launch a satellite into space.
“It’s meant to be the first stage or boost stage engine for something that can lift these small satellites into space,” said Teufert.
The goal is to reuse the engine, even on the same day. A rocket engine this size would normally cost $100 million but Masten Space Systems can do it for a fraction of the cost.
“We pushing the cutting edge on things like metal 3D printing and we’ve got really lean test operations,” said Teufert.
The 3D printed engine was completed in 1.5 months compared a typical timeline of nine months.
Teufert is one of 25 employees working on the new propulsion technology.
“I had been following Masten for a few years and was kind of interested in making the jump to something that was smaller, more commercial, more nimble and that was willing to sort of push the envelope on what was being done in this industry,” said Teufert.
This particular engine can take six to seven years to fully develop.
“It is rocket science and your margin of failure is very, very, very low. If something goes wrong, you can lose the rocket and you don’t want to lose a customer payload,” explained Matthew Kuhns, a principal investigator with Masten Space Systems.
Often times, weight is a big challenge when it comes to developing rocket engines.
“You want to keep your weight as low as possible so you can be as efficient and as low cost as possible,” said Kuhns.
The company achieves that by using aluminum instead of copper for its engine. It’s also precisely engineered with only essential parts.
“This is a three-piece engine. It’s only three pieces and you bolt them together and it works,” said Kuhns.
It works so well that NASA is partnering with the company finish development. But Masten Space Systems is no stranger to launch technologies. The company was founded in 2004 by rocket entrepreneur David Masten and counts the “Xombie” rocket as an example of its capabilities. The launch vehicle holds the company’s record of 224 for the most flights by any rocket powered airframe.
“We would use that as a test bed so we would launch their payload up, allow it to do its test and then bring it back down safely,” said Jason Hopkins, a program manager with the company.
The “Xombie” rocket is an example of Masten Space Company’s focus on reusability, a mission the team applies to its current work.