TOWARDS SUSTAINABLE SPACE

THRUSTME IN A NUTSHELL

Constellations of miniaturized satellites in low Earth orbit are the future of global connectivity and real-time Earth monitoring. ThrustMe enables this new space industry to be economically and environmentally sustainable by developing and commercialising standalone, fully integrated space propulsion systems together with value-added engineering services for these next generation satellites.

ThrustMe was founded in early 2017, leveraging more than 10 years of applied and fundamental research at one of the most prestigious research centres in France. Scientific rigour is one of the core values of ThrustMe; accelerating innovation by combining low-end-disruption of traditional space technologies with breakthrough inventions inspired from f.ex. the semiconductor industry.

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.

ThrustMe's low power neutralizer-free ion thruster

Our patented solution solves a number of key problems

The Neutralizer
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.
Gaseous propellant
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.
Efficiency
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
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.

THE TEAM

Ane Aanesland

Ane Aanesland

Co-founder and CEO

Ane Aanesland is a recognised expert in plasma physics and electric propulsion with more than 60 scientific publications. She likes “impossible” challenges and biked from Oslo to Rome in 21 days (2940 km), runs half-marathon in 1h42 minutes. Ane holds a PhD from the Arctic University of Norway.

Dmytro Rafalskyi

Dmytro Rafalskyi

Co-founder and CTO

Dmytro Rafalskyi is an expert in plasma physics and propulsion. He is the author of more than 20 scientific publications, 4 patents, and more than 40 conference contributions including 5 invited talks and lectures. Dmytro enjoys playing 5 musical instruments, building RC aircrafts and biking. Dmytro holds a PhD from Kharkiv National University.

Gautier Brunet

Gautier Brunet

COO

Gautier Brunet has more than ten years of experience developing aerospace systems from feasibility studies to operations, both in Europe and in the US. He has played rugby most of his life and has won the German Second Division Championship in 2013. Gautier holds Master’s degrees from Ecole Centrale, MIT and Harvard Business School.

Spontaneous applications are welcome

You think we could use your competences, and you feel like joining us? Why not contact us before the job is announced!

Open positions are below.

ThrustMe’s Advisors

We are delighted and honored to be guided and backed up by so many brilliant and fantastic people

Jean-Jacques Dordain

Former Director General of ESA (2003 to 2015)

European partnerships and space strategy

Helene Huby

Former head of Innovation at Airbus DS

Helene is our business strategy advisor as well as one of our valuable investors.

Albert Meige

Entrepreneur and Enchanteur

We will be ready for Disruption, Innovation and Transformation with the expert knowledge from Albert.

Jack Fuchs

Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Stanford University

Jack has extensive experience managing and advising high-growth companies in the US and abroad and will help us better prepare for our entry in the US.

“Access to space and the digital revolution have both contributed to the economic and societal changes we are living today. In return, these changes are accelerating the demand for space and thus generating disruptions in space technologies and systems. Among those disruptions, ThrustMe is one of the most innovative and promising start ups in Europe”

Jean-Jacques Dordain

Let's have fun while getting there

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself

– Henry Ford