One of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Aces satellites is shown in the lower left corner deploying from the SpaceX Transporter-8 rideshare flight. Credit: SpaceX screenshot

LOGAN, Utah – ExoTerra Resources has demonstrated its first Halo Hall-effect thrusters in orbit on DARPA Blackjack satellites.

The first ExoTerra Halo thruster lit on its first attempt in June. Now, three Blackjack Aces satellites manufactured by RTX subsidiary Blue Canyon Technologies have fired ExoTerra Halo thrusters.

“We have attempted to fire three of them and three of them have fired,” ExoTerra CEO Mike VanWoerkom told SpaceNews. “It’s huge for the company to have the flight heritage and proof that the system works. It puts us in that next level of demonstrated performance.”

Custom Design

ExoTerra custom-built the primary propulsion system for the Aces satellites. The ESPA-Grande size microsatellites, launched in June on the SpaceX Transporter-8 rideshare flight, are testing optical intersatellite links and on-orbit data processing.

The ExoTerra propulsion systems on the Aces microsatellites include Halo thrusters, propellant distribution components and power processing units.

ExoTerra Resources Halo Hall-effect thruster undergoing ground testing. Credit: ExoTerra

“The Halo system is performing nominally and providing thrust to maintain and raise the satellite’s orbit,” ExoTerra said in a news release.

Xenon feeds the Halo thrusters on the Aces satellites. ExoTerra’s Halo thrusters work equally well with krypton, VanWoerkom said.  

“Working with BCT and DARPA on the Blackjack program has been a great experience,” VanWoerkom said in a statement. “We’re all very excited to finally have the thruster validated in space and are looking forward to providing propulsion for several more flights in the coming year.”

ExoTerra, founded in 2011, designs, manufactures and tests electric propulsion elements for small satellites.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...