Busek finds headroom to double in size

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LOGAN, Utah — Busek is rapidly expanding its staff and facilities in response to strong demand for the Natick, Massachusetts, company’s spacecraft propulsion.

“We definitely have the headroom now to double in size,” Busek Vice President Peter Hruby told SpaceNews.

This summer, Busek acquired a 1,022-square-meter facility, bringing the company’s total offices, laboratory and manufacturing space to nearly 4,645 square meters.

As the business footprint expands, Busek is hiring. The company intends to add 15 people to its 60-person staff by the end of the year.

Busek is producing 6-kilowatt Hall-effect thrusters for the NASA lunar Gateway Power and Propulsion Element being built by Maxar Technologies.

“It will be the first human-rated mission to use electric propulsion,” Hruby said. “For us to have our engines on it is a great accomplishment.”

Busek, founded in 1985, also manufactures mid-power thrusters for commercial satellite constellations and low-power thrusters for small satellites.

“That’s one of the things that makes us unique,” Hruby said. “We serve a variety of customers.”

Busek is supplying BHT-350 Hall thrusters to Florida-based Airbus OneWeb Satellites.

The company’s product line has expanded to include gridded ion engines with iodine propellant, and miniature electrospray thrusters based on technology Busek developed with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the European Space Agency Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder gravity wave mission launched in 2015.

Finding thrusters, which are essential for many satellite missions, has become more difficult since Russia invaded Ukraine, the world’s dominant supplier of common satellite thruster propellants, including xenon and krypton. The war also severed OneWeb’s relationship with Russia-based electric propulsion supplier EDB Fakel.

Hruby declined to offer details about the war’s impact on OneWeb but said Busek has been working with the broadband constellation developer for about six years.

“We started with a clean-sheet design to accommodate the prime contractor’s rigorous requirements,” Hruby said.

Because of growing demand for thrusters, much of Busek’s work with prime contractors “has been focused on bringing critical processes in-house, ensuring robust supply chains and scaling manufacturing operations,” Hruby said.

Busek’s newest thruster systems, including electrospray and iodine-fueled ion engines, are scheduled for first flight next year.

Iodine propellant is not appropriate for every mission or every customer, Hruby said, but it offers key advantages.

“One, there’s a domestic source for iodine. Two, it stores as a solid, so you don’t need a pressure vessel,” Hruby said. “And three, iodine is a fraction of the cost of xenon and krypton.”