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First successful launch for iodine-propelled spacecraft

On November 3, 2019, for the first time in satellite history, an iodine propelled spacecraft has been launched into space. This new propulsion solution has been made possible thanks to the startup ThrustMe from the Laboratory of Plasma Physics.

First satellite iodine propelled ThrustMe crédit Spacety

Traditional satellite thrusters, such as pressurized systems or flammable propellants, are often expensive and paperwork-intensive products. The alternative developed by the French startup ThrustMe - which consists in using iodine as propellant - has just proved itself by joining the space aboard a Chinese rocket on November 3, 2019.

This launch was set up thanks to the collaboration of ThrustMe, from the Laboratory of Plasma Physics (LPP, UMR CNRS, X, Observatoire de Paris, Université Paris Sud, Sorbonne Université), with the Chinese company Spacety. In less than a year from the initial idea to launch, ThrustMe and Spacety have developed a space mission that demonstrates Iodine propellant and the importance of open-minded international collaborations of which they are a prime example.

A new thruster

Known as the “I2T5”, this unique non-pressurized cold gas thruster uses solid iodine as a propellant. 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.

From laboratory to space

This first demonstration of the iodine propellant in space highlights the significant impact that startups can have on innovation and technology advancements. Ane Aanesland, Co-Founder and CEO of ThrustMe reminds that the idea - to use iodine to replace pressurized gases such as xenon - was born in LPP in 2008. This first launch was greeted by Pascal Chabert, CNRS Director of LPP: “I am proud and very pleased to have witnessed the first satellite launch with a propulsion system created by ThrustMe! It is rewarding to see the progress that has been made since Ane arrived at the LPP and since our first scientific results. This success strengthens my conviction that there is a natural and beneficial continuity between basic research and technological innovation.”