COLORADO SPRINGS – Satellite propulsion startup Benchmark Space Systems announced plans April 5 to triple production capacity to meet growing demand for its Starling and Halcyon propulsion systems.
Over the next 18 months, Burlington, Vermont-based Benchmark plans to produce more than 150 propulsion systems for government and commercial satellites destined for low Earth, geostationary and cislunar orbit.
The whole industry has seen a transition from the early stage of constellations, where customers were building one or two of these satellites, to customers “now scaling up to build 10, 50 or 100,” Benchmark CEO Ryan McDeviitt told SpaceNews. “We’re building out to support those customers.”
Last year, Benchmark demonstrated the performance of its Halcyon thruster on an undisclosed government satellite mission.
“It proved that the core concept, the basic idea, works,” McDevitt said. “Getting the flight heritage and being able to talk to people, when we’re under [a nondisclosure agreement] about the performance characteristics” led to additional contract awards.
Benchmark is preparing to open an office in the United Kingdom, where the company recently signed its first contract.
“We’ve seen great alignment with the companies there,” McDevitt said. “They’re interested in space sustainability, thinking about space as a natural resource and the use of green propulsion.”
Since proving Halycon in orbit, much of Benchmark’s attention has focused on development of a variant, the Halcyon Avant green bipropellant propulsion system.
Halycon Avant is scheduled to fly for the first time on a Spaceflight Sherpa-LTC orbital transfer vehicle scheduled to launch later this year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Seven undisclosed government and commercial customers are scheduled to launch missions, which will often include multiple spacecraft, with Benchmark thrusters in 2022. Another 12 to 15 missions with Benchmark propulsion systems are slated for launch in 2023.
After initially identifying problems with the thrusters on the Sherpa-LTC, Benchmark worked closely with engineers from SpaceX and Sherpa manufacturer Spaceflight “to perform technical diligence to ensure future mission success,” McDevitt said. “We remain fully aligned with Spaceflight and SpaceX and are fast approaching the debut mission of the Sherpa-LTC orbital transfer vehicle powered by a Benchmark Halcyon Avant propulsion system a bit later this year, with other missions with Spaceflight and SpaceX to follow.”
Benchmark was founded in 2017 with two employees. By the end of 2021, the company had a 35-person staff. Benchmark now employs 50 people, is on track to hire 20 more by the end of the year and employ 120 people by mid-2023.