With 2023 coming to a close, we look back at Rubicon’s first full year at work. As we take stock of our accomplishment, wow, it is clear that 2023 was a year of significant team growth, business development, and product maturation. I am in awe of our small team’s many accomplishments, grateful to Plasma Processes LLC investment in our growth, and excited about the years to come. Near the end of 2022, we added our fourth team member and added two more to our ranks in 2023. And just this month, we moved into a new building where our assembly and testing facility space has increased fourfold. At the same time, we started construction on a new vacuum hot fire test facility that will serve Rubicon’s needs for years to come. "By the numbers", 2023 has been a big year of growth and accomplishment. I want to share some major accomplishments from this year, which has contributed to 2023 being a hugely successful year for us.
Sprite Propulsion System Nears Full Qualification
Mission duration hot fire test: In October 2023, a fully integrated engineering development unit (EDU) fired over 12,000 pulses during vacuum hot-fire testing. The testing was a key component of Sprite’s qualification activities. It demonstrated in-flight con-ops, anchor thermal analysis of the system, validated the power budget, and confirmed component life. A ground hot-fire test campaign of this magnitude represented a significant advancement in the technology readiness level.
Structural qualification of the propellant tank: In December 2023, the Sprite propellant tank qualification article passed acceptance proof pressure testing at NASA MSFC. The qualification burst test is expected in early January 2024. Rubicon invested a lot of effort in developing our additive manufacturing controls, and this test not only qualifies the propellant tank, but is a validation of our processes and controls.
Environmental qualification of the controller: In May 2023, the Sprite controller passed its environmental qualification testing. The qualification test campaign included random vibration and thermal cycle testing at temperature extremes. And through collaboration with NASA, nearly all components have been radiation tested.
Thrusters Continuing Development with Qualifications in 2024
New 5N Low Throughput (LT) thrusters delivered: In mid-2023, Rubicon built, acceptance tested, and delivered a shipset of 5N LT thrusters to NASA to complete an STTR program. The assembly and testing program validated our new assembly tooling and techniques.
Self-contained, pump-fed 5N LT thruster test-bed: Rubicon kicked off an extensive hot fire testing series with thermally conditioned (cold) ASCENT propellant. This work is in support of a NASA program. The collaboration explored the system level interactions of the propellant, the pump, and a thruster. This information will inform the customer’s propulsion stage design.
New 1N High Throughput (HT) thruster starts testing: Rubicon designed and built a new 1N thruster and hot fire tested it just before the holidays. That testing will continue in early 2024, and we expect to deliver flight units to an AFRL customer in late 2024.
Our 0.1N Thruster Fired in Space: Four of our 0.1N thrusters were launched in December 2022. And while the Lunar Flashlight mission did not go as planned, it was still a significant validation of our 0.1N thruster, with over 90 minutes of accumulated firing time on one thruster. Flight data showed that the thruster delivered expected performance. We are grateful to NASA and Georgia Tech’s Space Systems Design Laboratory (SSDL) for their efforts and openness in sharing their lessons learned so that we can help mitigate the risk of Foreign Object Debris (FOD) issues they experience.
Once again, I want to thank our Rubicon team, our Plasma Processes family, and our customers for their esprit de corps and their support. I encourage all that have touched our work in some way this year to share in our pride of our 2023 accomplishments, and share in our excitement about our 2024 plans and aspirations.
Cheers to all,
Director; Rubicon Space Systems