Portal’s Supernova Spacecraft is a ‘Bus’ for In-Orbit Satellites

Why Trust Techopedia
Key Takeaways

  • Portal's spacecraft uses unique propulsion to ferry satellites into different orbits.
  • The machine can survive in orbit for at least five years.
  • Co-founder Jeff Thornberg, formerly of USAF, SpaceX, and Stratolaunch, is a key driver of the project.

Portal Space Systems has unveiled a spacecraft that uses a unique propulsion technology to ferry satellites from low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit in hours. 

Having secured $3 million in funding from the Defense Department, the company has emerged from stealth mode after receiving further undisclosed private investment.

The resources will all support the development of a slimline spacecraft “satellite bus” known as Supernova. The 1,100lb machine is made to handle virtually any payload type and survive in orbit for at least five years. This cutting-edge development differs hugely from traditional spacecraft, which usually carry no more propulsion than needed to enter orbit.

Supernova sets itself apart with its solar thermal propulsion system. It uses solar energy to heat a propellant. The company has indicated the system can provide a delta-v (change in velocity) of 3.7 miles per second with high thrust. The spacecraft can transit from low Earth orbit to geostationary orbit in a matter of hours, or to cislunar space within a matter of days.

The startup benefits from the involvement of its chief executive and co-founder, Jeff Thornberg, a renowned space industry veteran, formerly of the U.S. Air Force, SpaceX, and Stratolaunch. Ian Vorbach serves as the company’s CEO.

In a discussion with TechCrunch, Jeff Thornburg cited innovation as his motivation for the new project. There were “mobility solutions that didn’t exist” for commercial and military uses. He believed too many space startups and small businesses focus on a niche project without thinking about the need to find a customer, but with Portal Space Systems, Thornburg believes he had the right company.