Agile Space Industries launches Animas Test Stand to meet growing demand | Tech Crunch

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Despite the tremendous growth of the space industry in the last ten years, there are still only a few places in the United States to test rocket and spacecraft engines. This isn't a problem for big companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, which can build their own; But almost everyone is stuck with long wait times and high costs.

Agile Space Industries Looking to change that. Founder Dowdy Barnes launched the company in 2019 to augment the work of his previous company, Advanced Mobile Propulsion Test. AMPT provided hypergolic engine testing, but as Agile, the company expanded to propulsion systems, thrusters, rocket engines and ground support equipment.

The Colorado-based startup already operates a test stand called Sunshine, which it debuted at AMPT 2010. Last week, it opened a second stand called Animas — the only commercial facility capable of vacuum testing hypergolic engines of 300 pounds and above. 6,000 pounds of thrust, the company says.

“The market is expanding really fast,” explains Animas project manager Graham Dudley. “The barrier to entry for rocket engines has come down, so there are a lot of people in that game. But for testing? It's really hard to do. “

Animas is designed for modularity, so it can be used for test campaigns from initial prototype testing to qualification and acceptance testing. The stand is built on skids that can be moved or replaced, so Agile can handle any test it (or the customer) needs.

Engine testing provides an additional revenue stream for the company, serving other space ventures while accelerating engine development.

Image credit: Agile Space Industries

“It's really useful to have easy access to testing early in your programs,” says Misa Hollinbeck, Agile's lead test engineer. “We started a lot of programs when we were AMPT that got really far into their design before they got really hot (engine) firing and it didn't work. So they had four years of design and development that had to be rebooted and that was really expensive and very difficult for your schedule estimation. So having access to early testing is definitely a problem for most industries.

Vacuum testing is particularly important for space propulsion systems because that test is specifically designed to simulate the space environment. But it's resource-intensive, Hollinbeck said: “A lot of small newspace companies, it's very expensive to put that infrastructure in place and they don't want to make that investment. They want to spend their money elsewhere. Making a cool hot fire video of an engine in the desert with your really cheap test stand is somewhat easy, but getting real data that allows you to fly your equipment – that's a higher level of sophistication.

Owning a test bed means Agile engineers have access to a wealth of data on their systems. It's a competitive edge in the space propulsion market, which has become crowded as the cost of launching spacecraft into orbit has fallen. Most engines fire for the first time in orbit, but that may change due to high-profile, expensive missions to the moon and deep space.

Dudley said that some external requests to test Agile have been received, “from multiple organizations indicating that they are not adequately testing the engines that go into some of the missions they are supporting and that is keeping those missions here. danger.”

“We're hearing directly that they want to come to us because they're concerned that if they can't find the test, it's going to raise the risk profile for their missions and it's not acceptable for them to go forward.”

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