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Agile Space Industries launches Animas test bed to meet growing demand

Despite the incredible growth of the space industry over the past decade, there are still few places in the United States dedicated to testing rocket and spacecraft engines. For large companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, this is not a problem because they can afford to build their own companies. But nearly everyone else faces long wait times and high costs.

Agile aerospace industry are seeking to change this. Founder Daudi Barnes launched the company in 2019 to enhance the work of his previous company, Advanced Mobile Propulsion Test. AMPT offers hypergolic engine testing, but as Agile, the company has expanded into propulsion systems, thrusters, rocket engines and ground support equipment.

The Colorado-based startup already operates a test bed called “Sunshine,” which AMPT set up in 2010. Last week, it opened a second test stand, called “Animas”—the only commercial facility capable of vacuum testing of hypergolic engines weighing more than 300 pounds, the maximum weight. The company says thrust is 6,000 pounds.

“The market is expanding rapidly at the moment,” explains Animas project manager Graham Dudley. “The barriers to entry for rocket engines have been lowered, so there are a lot of people involved. But for testing? That’s really, really hard to do.”

Animas is designed for modularity and can therefore be used for testing activities from early prototype testing to qualification and acceptance testing. The stand is built on a skid and can be moved or replaced, so Agile can handle any type of testing it (or its customers) needs.

Engine testing provides the company with an additional revenue stream for servicing other aerospace businesses while also accelerating in-house engine development.

Agile Space Animation

Image source: Agile Space Industries

“Being able to easily access tests early in the program is really helpful,” said Mesa Hollinbeck, principal test engineer at Agile. “We had several projects when we were at AMPT where the design was already in depth before the actual launch [the engine], but without success. So they’ve been in design and development for over four years and have to restart, which is really, really expensive and difficult to predict on your schedule. So testing as early as possible is definitely an issue for many industries. “

Vacuum testing is especially important for space propulsion systems because the test is specifically designed to simulate the space environment. But it’s resource-intensive, Hollingback said: “A lot of the smaller NewSpace companies, it’s very expensive to build the infrastructure, and they don’t want to make that investment. They want to spend the money elsewhere. It’s very cheap to use.” It’s a little easy to make a video of an engine fire in the scorching heat of a test rig in the desert, but to get actual data that allows you to drive the equipment – that’s a higher level of complexity.”

Having a test bed means agile engineers have access to large amounts of data on their systems. It has a competitive advantage in the space propulsion market, which is becoming increasingly crowded as the cost of launching spacecraft into orbit falls. Many of the engines fired in orbit for the first time, but that may change as more high-profile, costly missions head to the moon and deep space.

Dudley said some of the external requests received to test Agile indicate “concerns from multiple organizations that the engines in some of the missions they support are not being tested enough and are putting those missions at risk.”

“We heard directly that the reason they wanted to come to us was because they were concerned that if they couldn’t find a test, it would increase the risk profile of their mission, which was unacceptable to them.”

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