SAN FRANCISCO — Dirk Hoke, the former CEO of Airbus Defence and Space, is joining propulsion startup Plasmos Inc. as chairman of the board.
Beginning Sept. 1, Hoke will lead the startup founded in September by entrepreneur Ali Baghchehsara to develop and additively manufacture spacecraft propulsion systems that combine elements of electric and chemical engines.
“Ali and the team are working on a very efficient propulsion system,” Hoke told SpaceNews. “At Airbus Defence and Space, we were looking always at ways of improving the lifetime of satellites, which is mostly dependent on the fuel. A more efficient propulsion system serves as a buffer for avoiding collisions and of course for extending lifetime.”
Before Plasmos, Baghchehsara founded AB360, a startup developing the same hybrid propulsion system for interplanetary journeys. In contrast to AB360, Plasmos is focused on propulsion to move satellites around in Earth orbit.
“Interplanetary travel is still the vision but not our focus because there’s no market for that today,” Baghchehsara said.
Plasmos, a Colorado corporation based in Los Angeles, plans to offer propulsion systems online. Customers will select engines based on the desired thrust and power levels for satellites with a mass of 250 kilograms to 5 metric tons.
Plasmos is in the processing of raising funds and 3D-printing its first engine prototype.
Hoke is preparing to join Plasmos one year after his departure from Airbus, which coincides with the conclusion of his anti-competitive agreement.
In addition to the promise of Plasmos’ technology, Hoke said he enjoys working with Baghchehsara, who moved from Iran to Germany as a teenager. In Germany, Baghchehsara earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering and worked for the German Aerospace Center DLR and Airbus.
“I like the story of Ali coming from Iran as a young person by himself, studying in Germany, building up a career and being a young innovator,” Hoke said. “Also to have the guts to again give up everything to go to the U.S. to start from scratch, I think that deserves all the support that we can give it.”
Hoke served as Airbus Defence and Space CEO from 2016 to 2021. In September, Hoke will become the CEO of Volocopter, an urban air mobility startup. Hoke is a member of Spire Global’s board of directors and Voyager Space’s advisory board.
Hoke sees promise in the NewSpace sector as “access to space is becoming cheaper by the day,” he said. “With that, of course, we will see a lot of new business opportunities opening up to build new components, products, systems, and of course also new services in space.”
Plasmos, specifically, is making progress very fast, Hoke said. “It’s not only an idea, it’s becoming a reality,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing the engine testing, but also seeing how Ali is extending the network in order to get access to the different people he needs in order to grow the business.”