HyperSciences pushes ahead to next stage of blaster technology (and fundraising)

Alan Boyle
HyperSciences CEO Mark Russell shows off a test installation for its hypersonic blaster system at the company’s HyperLab in Spokane, Wash. (HyperSciences Photo)

HyperSciences has raised more than $9 million for its hypersonic blaster technology using an unusual crowdfunding model, but now it’s working to attract millions more in investment the old-fashioned way.

The six-year-old venture in Spokane, Wash., founded by CEO Mark Russell and backed by Seattle startup veteran Mike McSherry, is in the midst of a funding round that’s offering up to $3.95 million in equity. More than $1.6 million of that equity has already been sold, coming on the heels of a $9.2 million equity-based crowdfunding campaign that made use of the SeedInvest and Crowdcube online platforms.

About 4,000 investors got in on the campaign, which ended last year and morphed into the current investment round, Russell said. “We had investors putting in from $2,000 to … you know, some invested over $100,000,” he told GeekWire. “We’d always built the company to be a starting point for a public company.”

Russell said total investment to date amounts to more than $13 million, including seed funding that came before the crowdfunding. As of last week’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, $2.3 million of the current offering remained to be sold.

For Russell and his team, the true bottom line is to build a solid foundation for the next stage of HyperSciences’ efforts to harness the company’s ram accelerator technology, which came out of a collaboration with the University of Washington.

“We knew we’d need capital for at least three different sectors,” he said. “We’re going after geothermal energy drilling. We’re doing tunneling for transportation and mining applications, and we’re doing aerospace research and development. We have contracts in each one of those sectors.”

The technology basically involves accelerating projectiles to velocities that can exceed five times the speed of sound, and either slamming those projectiles into rock or shooting them into the sky.

Russell is capitalizing on his family’s heritage in the North Idaho mining industry, as well as his experience as an engineer at Boeing and at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

An initial series of field trials, bankrolled by Shell and an undisclosed mining company, is due to wrap up this summer at HyperSciences’ MineLab test facility near Sandpoint, Idaho. “Then our partners will fund a Phase 2 of that drilling project,” Russell said.

HyperSciences’ blasting system is designed to gain access to geothermal heat sources, as well as resources ranging from platinum and high-quality quartz to lithium and rare-earth minerals.

“We can access those much quicker by being able to drill and tunnel faster,” Russell explained. “All of these [applications] use rotational energy. We consider rotational energy to be a slow technology, and we’re replacing it with ‘digitally’ blasting into the rock in incremental pieces.”

The aerospace application, known as HyperDrone, has gone through an initial phase of testing at Spaceport America in New Mexico, thanks to $125,000 in NASA funding.

Russell said the HyperDrone application could mesh well with the federal government’s increased interest in hypersonic vehicle testing. “Some of the other companies that are getting funded out of the DOD [Department of Defense] and defense markets do not have scalable technologies like this,” Russell said. “We can scale from the very small to the very large.”

HyperSciences’ work in aerospace generally extends only as far as 100 kilometers (62 miles) in altitude. The ram accelerator technology could also be used at altitudes beyond that outer-space dividing line. HyperSciences is pursuing those applications by negotiating intellectual-property licenses with Russell’s separate venture known as Pipeline2Space.

As HyperSciences’ team members delve more deeply into hypersonic blasting, they’re coming across some intriguing technological twists. For example, the ground-penetrating shocks delivered by the projectiles can be measured with an array of sensors to produce underground density maps — potentially pointing to geothermal reservoirs or mineral deposits.

Russell said machine learning also plays a role. “We’re actually doing 3-D simulations of how we fracture rock, and then we use that to train ourselves and our robots how to mine most effectively in the materials that you’re into,” he said.

Another potential revenue-generator involves a deposit of quartz and rare-earth elements that HyperSciences is assessing at an undisclosed location in Asia. Russell said HyperSciences’ team is using conventional mining technology for the assessment, but if the site pans out, it could become a hypersonic testbed.

“We’re in the middle of drilling with our partner, and the results are coming out quite nicely,” he said.

Russell may sound upbeat, but there have been challenges as well. Although the company is generating revenue in each of its technological target areas, it’s not yet breaking even. And like many other tech startups, HyperSciences’ team of six full-time employees has had to deal with complications brought on by this year’s coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID has provided us an opportunity to just be really focused on what we’re doing,” Russell said. “Of course we curtailed some spending, particularly on testing during that time frame — then we came back a leaner, smarter organization, focused on delivering to our customers.”

And it turns out that HyperSciences isn’t finished with newfangled funding methods.

“We are doing our own crowd financing right now to our existing investors as well as any new people,” Russell said in a follow-up email. “Pretty cool to have a large enough following to do it ourselves.”

HyperSciences’ website provides details about the offering, which is set to close July 10.

Update for 9:10 a.m. PT July 24: We’ve updated this report to fine-tune a reference to potential space applications.

More from GeekWire: