IRocket, a reusable rocket startup based in New York, has landed its first commercial customer. The company said Thursday it had signed a multi-launch agreement with Turion Space, a recent Y Combinator grad that's developing spacecraft for orbital debris removal and satellite servicing.
According to the terms of the agreement, iRocket will send 20 of Turion’s forthcoming Droid satellites to orbit across 10 launches.
IRocket is developing fully reusable rockets, starting with its Shockwave launch vehicles, which it says will be ready to go to orbit in two years’ time. The autonomous 3D-printed Shockwave will be capable of supporting payloads with a maximum size of around 300 kg (661 lbs.) and 1,500 kg (around 3,300 lbs.).
“We’re definitely on track, and our partnership with Turion just strengthens that,” he said. IRocket has received funding from the U.S. Space Force, the M&J Engineering Group and VC firm Village Global.
Both companies have their eye on space junk removal; iRocket, with its reusable upper stage and Turion, with the Droid spacecraft, which the company says will remove orbital debris by docking with it and dragging it to an orbit low enough that it can eventually be captured and burned up in the atmosphere.
Turion, which was part of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 cohort, aims to launch the first Droid prototype in October 2022. The startup already has a separate launch agreement in place for that mission, though it couldn’t specify which provider it had selected.
For that initial launch, the spacecraft will not be capable of removing orbital debris or servicing satellites. “We will only be doing domain awareness activities,” Turion CEO Ryan Westerdahl explained. “What we're calling this satellite is ‘Just Get It Up There,’ because we want to get something into orbit as soon as possible, because a large part of what we need to do is really build out our ground operations.”
In addition to YC, Turion has received funding from Soma Capital, Forward VC, Pi Campus, FoundersX Ventures, Harvard Management Company and Imagination VC.
“Our top priority is building a sustainable future in low Earth orbit and active debris removal is a huge part of that,” Westerdahl said.
The two companies also hinted at possible future collaborations on in-orbit servicing. Westerdahl suggested that Turion could work with iRocket to perform final in-orbit deliveries for a fraction of the launch company’s payload, combined with space junk removal.
The story has been corrected to reflect iRocket's funders.
11/12/21 Correction: The story previously stated that iRocket has begun testing its hardware, including injector testing and rocket engine testing, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. The story has been corrected to reflect that these tests were undertaken by iRocket alone and without the involvement of NASA. iRocket has not tested any iRocket hardware at MSFC. iRocket has no agreement in place to test its hardware at MSFC.