ICEYE - IFM 350 Nano Thruster - IOD

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  • There are two primary objectives for project ICEYE are:

    • The use of the FEEP (field emission electric propulsion) ion thruster technology for propulsion. This allows high efficiency in terms of propellant use and superior controllability from the sub-µN range up to the mN range.
    • The PPU for operating the thruster is based on COTS components and was specifically tailored to the needs of a FEEP propulsion system. The in-orbit test is used to verify its functionality.


The following secondary objective for project ICEYE is:

  • The housing for the seven IFM nano modules is made of Aluminum with the ALM laser sintering process combined with CNC machining and surface treatments. This mission will also prove the usability of ALM manufactures for space applications.

Apart from the ion emitter itself, the module including housing, reservoir, heater and electrodes was required to be miniaturized. This is particularly challenging since high voltage of up to -10 kV / +10 kV is being used.

The PPU being able to generate high voltage for emitter and extractor, drive the heater and neutralizers, and measuring the reservoir contactless, has been developed from the scratch with COTS components only.

Compared to existing ion sources, the large amount of propellant (up to 250 g) is challenging in terms of heating, surface tension and spilling.


The IFM Nano Thruster addresses the urgent need of a propulsion system for micro- and nano-satellites: its wide range of thrust (1μN to 1mN), the excellent throttability, and a high specific impulse (Isp up to 5000 s), allow to significantly increase the mission range of such satellites. The high Isp on the other hand allows for very high delta-v manoeuvres at a high propellant mass utilization efficiency (80%). The modularity and the small volume (less than 1 dm³ including propellant and electronics) and its light mass (0.8 kg), make the thruster suitable for all small satellites from 1 to 500 kg.


There are major components of the cluster which are essential for proper operation:

  • The housing is made out of Aluminum and manufactured as one part using ALM process. This is a novel approach and vibrational tests have not shown any issues.
  • The cluster uses seven individual IFM nano thruster modules. These have undergone several test and qualification procedures but no in-orbit demonstration has been performed so far (planned for begin of 2018).
System Architecture

The cluster for project ICEYE consists of seven individual and individually controllable IFM nano thruster modules embedded into a common housing.

A common power bus is shared between the seven individual modules but mechanical relays can selectively remove modules therefrom. Two RS-485 communication busses are implemented (one branch with three, another with four modules attached to) which allow communication with the OBC.

The RS-485 transceivers are rad-hard and guarantee unblocking the bus once the supply voltage is removed. This allows the OBC to decide which IFM nano thrusters shall be active.


The project started after the PDR. Before that, prior work was performed to estimate the major risks of the project. All work before kick-off has been reviewed in a PWR. After the design of the housing and the mechanical and thermal simulation, a CDR is planned. Then the thrusters and the housing can be manufactured. The performance of the IFM nano thruster modules is determined individually. After integration into the common housing and a successful operation of the entire cluster, a FRR is scheduled.

After delivery, the cluster is integrated and the spacecraft is launched by the operator. The customer will provide telemetry of the cluster during commissioning phase.

Current status

The ICEYE cluster was assembled end of 2018 and after successful acceptance testing it was shipped to the customer begin of 2019.

After integration of the ICEYE cluster, the spacecraft was successfully launched begin of May 2019. FOTEC is looking forward to the commissioning phase of the propulsion system which has not been scheduled yet.