Take control of small satellite orbits
Suitable propulsion systems are now available also for small satellites
ThrustMe is a startup from the Ecole Polytechnique
We develop, produce and commercialize innovative electric propulsion systems and provide services to ensure full orbit control of small satellites
Democratization of space
The future of big data, the internet and global humanitarian, environmental and economical intelligence
ThrustMe gives small satellites increased possibilities in space
We allow our customers, who are typically satellite integrators and actors in the small satellite market, to take full control of the orbit of small satellites enabling them to undertake amazing missions.
ThrustMe develops and commercialises breakthrough propulsion systems and added services. ThrustMe’s electric propulsion solution can provide the necessary thrust and high specific impulse to do high delta-V missions using only 5% of the satellite mass and volume, while still being able to carry out orbit transfers in just a few weeks. This is made possible by our patented technology allowing for extreme miniaturisation of the thruster with our smallest engine being 40% of the size of competitive ion thruster technologies yet having similar or even better performances. We provide a complete thruster module that fits into a one unit Cubesat, and we provide larger tailored engines for more advanced small satellites.
Ion thrusters are promising for SmallSats
BUT there are technological hurdles in miniaturization due to their need for a separate neutralizer and gaseous propellant – We solved this problem using clever, innovative solutions
CLASSICAL ION THRUSTERS
In an ion thruster, ions from a gas discharge (a plasma) are accelerated via static electric fields using a set of biased grids. This ion beam generates thrust and its high velocity ensures a high Isp and therefore low propellant consumption. To avoid beam stalling and charging of the spacecraft, the positive ion beam needs to be neutralized by electrons in the downstream space. This is achieved with a separate neutralizer. Power, typically obtained from solar panels, is fed to the various parts of the system via a power processing unit (PPU). The propellant, typically xenon, is fed into the gas discharge chamber and the neutralizer.
The classical ion thruster is illustrated in the video below. Courtesy of NASA Glenn Research Center.
OUR INNOVATIVE SOLUTION
Our solution is a novel ion thruster operating with solid propellant that combines technologies from the space and semiconductor industries. The acceleration grids are biased with radiofrequency (RF) voltages across a capacitor. Due to the different mass of ions and electrons the plasma acts as a diode and the capacitor charges up (self-biases). The resulting DC voltage accelerates ions continuously while electrons exit during a short period within the RF cycle. This leads to significant simplification and advantages over classical ion thrusters, while still keeping similar or even better performance. The use of a solid propellant with a high vapor pressure (such as iodine) removes the need for high pressure storage and complex valves for flow control.
Our patented solution solves a number of key problems
The neutralizer is a fragile and expensive element that is difficult to downscale due to both limitations in the minimum physical size and the minimum delivered electron current. In our technology we do not need one since both ions and electrons exit from the same plasma source.
Control of the space charge
The current from the ion beam (gas discharge) and the neutralizer is difficult to match and results in charging and ion back scattering. The capacitive nature of the acceleration system ensures equal currents of ions and electrons, completely removing problems related to charging
The Power Processing Unit
Power Processing Units (PPU) in classical systems are large, heavy and complicated due to the need for several DC amplifiers in both the gas discharge and neutralizer channels. Since we only use radio frequency power, the PPU is simpler and smaller because no High Voltage DC amplifiers are needed.
Classical plasma based thrusters use xenon as the propellant gas. The cost of xenon is not such a problem for small systems, but both the plasma source and the neutralizer need complex and expensive gas flow regulation and the propellant is stored under high pressure in bulky containers. This is a large hurdle for miniaturization. We integrate solid iodine propellant in our system. Iodine has very particular properties. It has a very high vapor pressure sublimating directly from solid to gas. Therefore, it allows for the use of a simple storage container that can take any physical form and a simpler flow control system.
The thrust per area ratio is limited by the space charge limit (Child’s law), or in other words by the maximum current that can be extracted across a set of grids. Using radio frequency acceleration, the space charge limit is increased twofold, and translates into larger extracted currents. Therefore, the thrust can be doubled for the same size due to a higher space charge limited current.
Plume-satellite interactions are reduced using radio frequency acceleration, compared to the classical acceleration methods, due to the directed emission of electrons and therefore a highly collimated beam.
Come and talk with us at forums and conferences
ThrustMe is one of the TOP500 startups at the Hello Tomorrow Challenge and we are excited to participate at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit the 13th and 14th of October in Paris.
ThrustMe is one of two startups selected by SATT Paris-Saclay to be presented at VIVA Technology Paris. We will be at our stand the 1st and 2nd of July. Come and talk with us!
We enjoed a great event organised by CNES/ESA with enthusiasts from all over the world
Dmytro Rafalskyi, our CTO, gave a lecture on neutralizer-free ion propulsion at the VKI Lecture Series “Electric Propulsion Systems: from recent research developments to industrial space applications” – STO-AVT-263, 6th – 10th June 2016. Lecture notes available upon demand.
We are in the news and in published scientific journals
When startups disrupt the space industry: Interview with Ane Aanesland, co-founder and CEO of ThrustMe, Open-Your-Innovation, July 2016
Propulseur ionique pour cubesat et microsatellites (in french), Aerospatium, July 2016
The Race to Build Teeny Tiny Satellite Thrusters, Motherboard, January 2016
Steering Small-Scale Satellites, APS News, December 2015
Brief review on plasma propulsion with neutralizer-free systems (Topical Review), D. Rafalskyi and A. Aanesland, Plasma Sources Sci. & Technol. 25 043001 (2016)
Plasma acceleration using a radio frequency self-bias effect, D. Rafalskyi and A. Aanesland, Phys. Plasmas 22, 063502 (2015)
Coincident ion acceleration and electron extraction for space propulsion using the self−bias formed on a set of RF biased grids bounding a plasma source, D. Rafalskyi and A. Aanesland, J. Phys. D : Appl. Phys. 47, 495203 (2014)
We are extremely thankful for the support we have received over the years
Ecole Polytechnique research centre is developing several space related technologies : scientific tools for earth and planets observation, related data treatment and modelling, and last but not least electrical propulsion for satellites and spacecrafts. ThrustMe scientific and technical background comes from the Plasma Physics Laboratory, a Joined Research Unit of Ecole polytechnique, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Université Paris Sud and Observatoire de Paris Meudon. Studies on electrical propulsion started almost ten years ago and have been strongly supported by permanent and non-permanent staff recruitment, public subsidies and contract funds. As a part of its commitment towards technology transfer, the TTO of Ecole Polytechnique has deposited five patent families in the last ten years, two of them being licensed to ThrustMe. TTO has also been involved all along the development phase to get required funds and set-up partnerships for TRL improvement. Ecole Polytechnique and its Plasma Physics Laboratory will continue to strongly support the company through multi-year research collaboration. We are already proud of achievements and we wish the best to the Thrustme founders!
The Université Paris-Saclay harbours the best scientific laboratories and institutions from the southern Paris region. We, at the innovation and industrial liaisons department of the Université Paris-Saclay, are committed to facilitate the transition from bench to market. As such, we provide technical and financial supports to researchers who wish to bring their technology to customers. Ane Aanesland has shown that ThrustMe is ready to make its first steps in the start-up community, and we are proud to have been able to help in the first moments of its creation. It is fascinating to see cutting-edge small satellite thrust technology come to life and how incredible projects, such as ThrustMe, make the Université Paris-Saclay so unique.
SATT Paris-Saclay is an early stage investor with the mission of assisting with developing and transferring technologies from the Laboratories within the University Paris-Saclay to the business world. ThrustMe, coming out from one of the Ecole Polytechnique research labs, has developed an outstanding game-changing technology for space propulsion that convinced us to support the project. Within a couple of months, ThrustMe will be ready to steer small satellites in space and satisfy their first customers. We are proud to be part of the beginning of such a great adventure, led by Ane Aanesland their amazing CEO.
PLAS@PAR is a cluster of excellence within the field of Plasma Physics comprised of a community of over 150 physicists in and around Paris. Part of our mission is to provide support to dynamic researchers developing innovative projects that have a potential value for society. To help build the technology behind ThrustMe, Plas@Par has participated along the way since 2012. Through the funding of Ph.D. students, postdoctoral fellows, invited experts, experimental instrumentation and small projects, we have been pleased to assist the ThrustMe team to create and build a new generation of space thrusters. We wish ThrustMe a well-deserved success in their endeavor!
YES we are hiring
Do you want to participate in the development of the next generation plasma thrusters and see the applications of small satellites really take off? We are not only looking for the best trained employees, but for the most passionate, because space and aeronautics are about passion and vocation. Good people can do good things, but only passionate people can achieve excellence. You know what to do next, contact us!