WASHINGTON — Turion Space, an Irvine, California-based startup, has secured a $1.9 million contract from SpaceWERX, the U.S. Space Force’s technology arm, to develop an autonomous spacecraft docking and maneuvering system. The contract aims to advance technologies for engaging uncooperative space objects and facilitating the deorbit of inactive satellites.

Ryan Westerdahl, Turion’s co-founder and CEO, said in an interview that the company is focusing on in-space mobility and non-Earth imaging. Turion launched its first satellite, Droid.001, a 32-kilogram spacecraft designed for space situational awareness, in June 2023. Data from this satellite is being integrated into the Space Force’s Unified Data Library.

Westerdahl revealed plans for a demonstration as early as 2026, featuring a Droid mothership hosting “micro-Droid” satellites equipped with the capturing device being developed under the SpaceWERX contract. The micro-Droid, partly funded by NASA, will use grapplers to capture debris objects.

“The space debris problem can be solved with a better understanding of where things are in the space domain so operational satellites can maneuver without regret to avoid collisions, and by removing large non-maneuverable objects,” Westerdahl explained.

While Turion’s long-term goal is to provide a debris removal service, the company is currently focused on hosting space domain awareness payloads to generate steady revenue. Turion plans to offer three payload hosting options: Droid Alpha Mini, Droid Alpha, and Droid Alpha Enhanced Mobility with ion thrusters.

The company’s next satellite launch, scheduled for February, will demonstrate the larger Droid Alpha bus. Westerdahl projects that by 2027, Turion will be producing 45 satellites annually. The enhanced mobility ion thrusters will be co-produced with Desert Works Propulsion, a specialist in electric propulsion for space applications.

To date, Turion Space has raised nearly $20 million in venture capital. Westerdahl said. 

A former SpaceX propulsion engineer, Westerdahl co-founded Turion Space in 2020 with Tyler James Pierce and Patryk Wiatr.

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...