February 16, 2021

IONSat

Testing a plasma ion thruster in orbit
Prime contractorEcole Polytechnique
Launch date2021 - 2022
Launch baseTo be defined
OrbitLow Earth, 400 km
Mission lifetime14 to 16 months

IONSat’s ambition is to tighten its orbit and then stay in low Earth orbit for several months, resisting atmospheric drag before ending its mission with a controlled de-orbiting.

IONSat is a 6U cubesat (10 x 20 x 30 cm) weighing 12 kg that will deploy its wide solar panels to power its thruster, which will fire at regular intervals. Its orbit variations will be observed from the ground.

This project is being pursued in partnership with French firm ThrustMe, which has developed a small plasma ion thruster (1U or 10 x 10 cm). More than 20 students, part-time engineers and supervisor teams at the Ecole Polytechnique engineering school are working on the IONSat project, currently in its development phase.

IONSat is the largest French student cubesat. It poses a major technical challenge, as to operate and test ThrustMe’s small thruster it will need to be powered correctly, the satellite’s orientation will have to be actively controlled, communications will have to be effectively maintained and batteries reliable—and all of this in the unforgiving environment of space.