WASHINGTON — Space industry startups focused on satellite propulsion, in-orbit manufacturing and debris tracking won prize money from a business accelerator funded by the U.S. Space Force.

The accelerator known as Hyperspace Challenge, run by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space Force’s SpaceWERX program, announced Dec. 2 that Varda Space Industries, Scout and Neutron Star Systems received $25,000 (first place), $15,000 (second place), and $10,000 (third place), respectively. 

In addition to prize money, the companies get access to government mentors and insight on future contract opportunities. Thirteen startups competed for the 2021 awards.

Varda Space Industries, founded in 2020, earlier this year raised $42 million Series A funding to develop a manufacturing facility to make products in space that can be brought back to Earth. The Space Force is interested in the company’s payload capsules for cargo delivery from space.

Scout, a two-year old startup, developed a space-based optical sensor and payload system for collision avoidance and in-space object detection.

Neutron Star Systems, from Cologne, Germany, is developing a superconductor-based electric propulsion system as a lower-cost alternative to other forms of electric propulsion currently used for satellites.

The Hyperspace accelerator also selected three universities: Stevens Institute of Technology, for its artificial intelligence technology; SUNY Polytechnic Institute, for neural networks that could help track satellite debris; and Texas State University, for its research on the effects of vibration during micro-gravity production of heavy-metal fluoride glass.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...