ThrustMe's historic space launch: the first iodine-propelled spacecraft in history

Posted on 3 November, 2019

ThrustMe and Spacety have launched the first ever iodine-propelled satellite. The satellite was sent into space by a Long March 4B (CZ-4B) carrier rocket from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China's Shanxi Province, on 3 November 2019 at 11:22AM (Beijing time). The 6U satellite, built by Spacety, includes a propulsion system developed and built by ThrustMe. Known as the I2T5, this propulsion system uses a first-of-its-kind, non-pressurized, cold gas thruster fuelled by solid iodine. Designed with CubeSats in mind, the I2T5 will help ensure a sustainable space industry by extending the lifetime of satellite missions, and enabling collision avoidance maneuvers. In the future, ThrustMe’s other iodine based, electric propulsion systems, will additionally enable orbital changes, constellation phasing, and orbit maintenance.

“This is a historic launch in so many ways: for ThrustMe, for Spacety and for the whole space community”, says Ane Aanesland, Co-Founder and CEO of ThrustMe.

  • Iodine propellant is finally being demonstrated in space! “The first time we spoke about iodine as a good candidate to replace pressurized gases such as xenon, was in 2008”, says Aanesland. Since then, many research institutions, companies and space agencies have worked on developing iodine propulsion systems, including NASA with its IceCube mission. That ThrustMe is the first company to succeed in launching the first propulsion system operating with iodine as a propellant highlights the significant impact startups can have on innovation and technology advancements.
  • It’s ThrustMe’s first launch! ThrustMe has developed a wide portfolio of smart propulsion systems for small satellites. This mission puts ThrustMe on the map as one of the few space startups with commercially available and space proven propulsion products.
  • Historic collaboration. This launch also demonstrates a notable change in the space industry, where startups from Europe and Asia join forces to develop a mission with an extremely rapid development time. From idea to launch in less than a year, from contract to launch in 8 months. ThrustMe and Spacety, with this first launch together, demonstrate the importance of open minded international collaborations.

 

“The I2T5 is designed for CubeSats – it took us only 6 weeks from identifying a real market need, to having a first working prototype. We achieved this by leveraging all of the work we had already done to develop the iodine propellant storage and feed system for our ion engine”, Dmytro Rafalskyi, Co-founder and CTO of ThrustMe.

“When we spoke with ThrustMe about the impressive achievements they had made in the development of iodine fueled propulsion, I just knew that Spacety would be up to this historic task to make it to space in record time. We also saw the potential for us in a long-term collaboration with ThrustMe so we can provide the best propulsion solutions to our clients in China”, Weijia REN, Co-founder and CTO of Spacety.

Today, the majority of 3U and 6U CubeSats do not have any propulsion capability because no viable solutions that are safe, simple, and cost effective, are available on the market. Satellite operators are weary of expensive and paperwork-intensive products that include pressurized systems or flammable propellants.

The I2T5 has already generated significant customer traction. It will be used to propel an ISIS 6U spacecraft for the Royal Thai Air Force, to be launched in 2020, as well as the ROBUSTA-3A satellite developed by the Université de Montpellier. Several other commercial contracts have also been signed, but these clients and missions remain confidential at this stage.


Acknowledgements:
The development and industrialization of the I2T5 has been supported by the French government via the BPIFrance I-LAB, and the European Unions’ Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No. 823337. The French National Space Agency (CNES) is now supporting future I2T5 enhancements.

About ThrustMe:
ThrustMe, founded in 2017, is a French deep-tech company in the space industry, developing, producing and selling a variety of smart space-propulsion systems for next generation satellites, as well as innovative systems for ground testing of space technologies. In 2019, ThrustMe commercialized 3 breakthrough products.

About SpaceTy:
Spacety Co., Ltd. (Changsha) is a privately-owned Chinese commercial space company, founded in 2016, and specializing in low-cost, high-performance and reliable nano/micro satellite platforms, and providing global satellite services. They already have an impressive track record with 14 successful satellite launches achieved to date.