Test of an X-Bow Systems additively manufactured solid propellant. Credit: X-Bow Systems

SAN FRANCISCO — X-Bow Systems, an Albuquerque, N.M., solid propulsion startup, announced a $60 million U.S. Air Force Strategic Funding Increase, or STRATFI, agreement.

To Jason Hundley, X-Bow CEO and founder, the STRATFI agreement “is a very good signal from AFWERX that a new approach to solid rocket motors can be looked at as real, viable and competitive in aerospace applications in the near term.”

AFWERX, the Air Force innovation arm, established the STRATFI program in 2021 to provide small businesses with $3 million to $15 million to help bridge the valley of death between technology development and commercial adoption.

Additive manufacturing

X-Bow, founded in 2017, emerged from stealth in 2022 with plans to disrupt the solid rocket motor business in part through additive manufacturing.

“Our manufacturing technology is definitely one big discriminator for us because it lowers the operational costs and the capital infrastructure costs for scalable solid rocket motor solutions,” Hundley said. “We also are taking a unique and modular approach to the design and manufacturing of systems. It’s not just an individual motor for an individual application, but a platform approach to offer multiple motor solutions in suborbital testing and potentially tactically responsive small launch applications.”

Competing with giants

The STRATFI award will extend XBow’s work with the Air Force Research Laboratory.

The company will “produce a whole bunch of solid rocket motors using our technology to show that it’s just as good as the old technology,” Hundley said. “It allows us to build a series of test data. The award allows us to look at the qualification of our technology to compete with these multibillion-dollar businesses that get hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies from the U.S. government to upgrade facilities and maintain their production capacities.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems are the country’s primary suppliers of military solid rocket motors. L3Harris Technologies plans to acquire Aerojet for $4.7 billion, pending regulatory approval.

Commercial applications

X-Bow raised $27 million in a Series A funding round one year ago. To qualify for STRATFI awards, companies need private funding, government contracts and commercial applications for their technology.

Applications for X-Bow’s technology range from missiles to automobile airbags.

“We’re currently focused on the aerospace side, but our manufacturing technology would be just as useful in the automotive sector once we get it mature,” Hundley said. “There are in-space solid rocket motor applications as well, separation systems and deorbit motors.”

X-Bow is one of 11 companies selected by the U.S. Space Force to compete for Orbital Services Program-4 launch contracts throughout the decade.

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...