• Satellite Evolution Group

French and Chinese space startups make history together - The first iodine-propelled spacecraft succ

French and Chinese space startups make history together - The first iodine-propelled spacecraft successfully tested in space

Only 15 days after the successful launch of the first ever iodine-propelled satellite, ThrustMe and Spacety announce that the first propulsive operations have been conducted.

After 10 intensive days in orbit, Spacety managed to complete the in-orbit commissioning of the satellite. It was time for the two parties, Spacety and ThrustMe, to test the I2T5 cold gas thruster for the first time.

“We had planned to do the propulsive operations after all the other payloads had been fully tested, so in a 2-3 months’ time from now, but we didn’t have the patience to wait – it was just too exciting to test this historic system as soon as we could”, says Feng Yang founder and CEO at Spacety.

This thruster is a one-of-its-kind propulsion system, invented and developed by ThrustMe, and if successful it will open up a complete new area for the space industry; tiny satellites (known as CubeSats) will finally be able to do propulsive operations and bigger satellites will gain considerably in both complexity and cost of the propulsion system.

ThrustMe’s founders have been working on this for years, their idea of using iodine as an alternative propellant in space was one of the drivers for them to create the company. And they have not been alone, the whole electric propulsion community has been striving to develop propulsion systems with alternative propellants, and iodine has stood out as a potential game changer. In US, NASA together with established American companies and research institutions have spent a decade together with millions of dollars trying to develop propulsion systems with iodine as propellant, so has ESA together with many of the larger European space corporates.

“Iodine has remarkable advantages compared to pressurized gases, but it has also new technical and quite difficult challenges. It is not straight forward - you cannot just replace the pressurized gas with iodine and think that it will work. We had to think outside the box, and we combined many fields of physics, chemistry and engineering to succeed”, says Dmytro Rafalskyi, CTO of ThrustMe “The I2T5 is a cold gas propulsion system that we designed for CubeSats, however, it is also a subsystem for our ion electric propulsion product. So this technology demonstration we are doing together with Spacety is a big step for us - two birds with one stone”, says Ane Aanesland, CEO of ThrustMe.

“This was such a big opportunity for us, we want to collaborate with Europe and if possible also with the US. We are so proud of what we managed to do in such a short time. It took us eight months from signing the contract to launching the satellites, and then only 15 days in space to get the first successful data. Speed is something ThrustMe and Spacety has in common, and for both parties this does not mean low quality or high risk”, says James Zheng, VP of International business at Spacety The first firing of the I2T5 was performed 18th of November 2019 and had a duration of a few 10s of minutes. All subsystems reported correct operations and thus the commissioning of the thruster was successful. During the next firings the thruster will perform exact orbital maneuvers.

“From the telemetry continuously transmitted by the I2T5, we have already got insightful knowledge about electrical, thermal and propulsive behavior of the system. I should say that we have been working on this project very hard over the last months and now we are very happy to analyze the first flight data and start optimizing our models to further improve the performances of the system. This is extremely encouraging for us to continue working on iodine!”, says Javier Martinez Martinez, lead flow dynamics engineer responsible for the I2T5 product development at ThrustMe.