ThrustMe and Spacety announce that the BEIHANGKONGSHI-1 satellite, carrying the world’s first iodine electric propulsion system on board, was successfully launched into space on a CZ-6 Long March 6 rocket from Taiyuan in China on the 6th of November at 04:20 a.m. (Paris time).
In-space propulsion is becoming a critical subsystem, particularly for satellite constellations, for which high-performance, turnkey, and streamlined solutions are important to ensure economic and environmental sustainability of the space industry.
The use of small satellites operating not individually, but as part of a constellation, has changed the way the industry designs, manufactures, launches and operates satellites. Propulsion systems available for these satellites have so far been too complex, too expensive, or had insufficient performance to provide full constellation deployment capabilities, and new innovative propulsion solutions are needed.
The BEIHANGKONGSHI-1 satellite includes a ThrustMe NPT30-I2 electric propulsion system which uses iodine propellant. Iodine can be stored as a solid and does not require any complex or costly high-pressure storage tanks like conventional gaseous propellants such as xenon. This also means that the propulsion system can be delivered pre-filled, which greatly simplifies satellite integration and testing. Considering the high production cost of xenon, and the predicted supply problems to meet growing demands from satellite constellations, iodine is seen as an important next-generation propellant to enable sustainability of the space industry. “Iodine is a game changer, and with this
mission, we will demonstrate it for the first time”, says ThrustMe’s CEO Ane Aanesland.
“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. This time, we will test the full capabilities of our NPT30-I2 electric propulsion system and carry out a number of advanced orbital maneuvers”, says ThrustMe’s CTO, Dmytro Rafalskyi.
The demonstration of ThrustMe’s NPT30-I2 on Spacety’s BEIHANGKONGSHI-1 satellite will lead to a significant commercial collaboration between the two companies. “We consider ThrustMe’s NPT30-I2 iodine electric propulsion to be a very promising technology to meet the propulsion requirements of our SAR constellation. We have already ordered several of ThrustMe’s NPT30-I2 propulsion systems for our upcoming Synthetic Aperture Radar constellation that we will start deploying this year.”, says Feng Yang founder and CEO at Spacety. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) uses a special radar antenna to create 2D or 3D reconstructions of landscapes or cities, both day and night, rain or shine. By making use of a constellation, global coverage can be obtained with fast refresh rates ideal for remote sensing and mapping, and particularly disaster management. Since small satellite constellations are often launched together in batches, onboard propulsion is critical to allow deployment of the constellation into its required global operational pattern, and to provide orbit maintenance over time.
“In-orbit demonstration is a critical step for a new space product to enter the space market. We have been very pleased with the win-win collaboration with ThrustMe on the quick and flexible demonstration mission, and are looking forward to future collaborations”, says James Zheng, CEO of Spacety Luxembourg.
The development of the NPT30-I2 flight model used on this demonstration mission was funded via the European Space Agency (ESA) ARTES C&G programme. ThrustMe’s prior research and development of iodine technology has been supported by the French state via SATT Paris-Saclay, BPIFrance I-LAB and the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) R&T program.