Spacety launches satellite to test ThrustMe iodine electric propulsion and constellation technologies

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SAN FRANCISCO – French propulsion startup ThrustMe is preparing to conduct an in-orbit demonstration of an iodine electric propulsion system on a 12-unit Spacety cubesat launched Nov. 6 at 10:19 Eastern time on a Chinese Long March 6 rocket.

“It is a historic launch because it’s the first iodine electric propulsion systems that will be tested in space,” ThrustMe CEO Ane Aanesland told SpaceNews.

In addition to ThrustMe’s propulsion, Spacety’s first 12U cubesat houses a laser communications module and autonomous airplane tracking technology, James Zheng, Spacety Luxembourg CEO, told SpaceNews by email.

Spacety created a new bus for the Beihangkongshi-1 cubesat with batteries, a thermal radiator and a solar panel “to support payloads with high power consumption and duty cycle,” Zheng said.

Beihangkongshi-1 is designed to demonstrate key technologies for multi-beam and multi-channel Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast to provide continuous global aircraft tracking, communication and intervention for future air traffic control systems, Zheng said.

“Last year we tested critical technologies for iodine storage, delivery, and sublimation, on Spacety’s Xiaoxiang 1-08 satellite as part of an in-orbit demonstration of our I2T5 iodine cold gas thruster,” Dmytro Rafalskyi, ThrustMe chief technology officer, said in a statement. “This time, we will test the full capabilities of our NPT30-I2 electric propulsion system and carry out a number of advanced orbital maneuvers.”

In 2019, ThrustMe tested a cold gas thruster based on the iodine propellant storage subsystem of its electric thruster on Spacety satellite.

In upcoming tests, ThrustMe plans to demonstrate a far more complex propulsion system that pairs the iodine propellant storage with a gridded ion thruster.

The goal, Aanesland said, is to demonstrate “electric propulsion with high delta-v operations,” meaning the thruster will produce a significant change in the satellite’s velocity.

The European Space Agency provided ThrustMe with funding for the upcoming in-flight demonstration. It was ThrustMe’s first ESA contract.

ESA supported development of ThrustMe’s engineering and qualification models as well as flight hardware through its Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems Competitiveness & Growth program.