Oliver Jia-Richards and University of New South Wales published in AIAA’s Journal of Propulsion and Power

“Iodine Electric Propulsion System Thrust Validation: From Numerical Modeling to In-Space Testing”

Professor, Oliver Jia-Richards

A well-earned congratulations goes out to Michigan Aerospace Engineering Professor, Oliver Jia-Richards, and Dr. Trevor Lafleur from the University of New South Wales, for their publication in the AIAA’s Journal of Propulsion and Power. Their paper titled, “Iodine Electric Propulsion System Thrust Validation: From Numerical Modeling to In-Space Testing,” highlights a complete thrust audit of an iodine-based gridded ion thruster developed by a small satellite propulsion company, ThrustMe. 

With the rapid growth of the space industry and the evolution of new technologies, the demonstration of the technology’s performance in space is a crucial step towards improving confidence in its application for future missions. The team conducted their audit by employing four methods to estimate thrust, such as numerical modeling, indirect laboratory testing from diagnostic probes and propulsion system telemetry, indirect in-space testing from onboard propulsion system telemetry, and direct in-space testing by analyzing orbital maneuvers performed with the thruster.

Their results from all four methods successfully showed consistent findings and provided confidence in the technology readiness of iodine-based gridded ion thrusters for future missions, and also validated recent iodine plasma models. The conducting of a thrust audit also demonstrated the application of a numerical approach for direct in-space thrust estimation based on orbital maneuvers developed by Professor Jia-Richards’ group.

These findings, combined with earlier comparisons of indirect and direct laboratory thrust estimates performed by Dr. Lafleur and ThrustMe, provide a comprehensive thrust audit of the propulsion system. The study underscores the importance of such audits for electric micropropulsion systems, fostering confidence in new technologies. Professor Jia-Richards and Dr. Lafleur encouraged similar audits for other systems in the future, emphasizing the method’s adaptability to different propulsion systems. 

“This publication provided an opportunity for us to test numerical methods that we are developing for direct in-space thrust estimation using actual flight data, and it was great for Dr. Lafleur and the ThrustMe team to provide the data from their recent technology demonstration mission,” commented Professor Jia-Richards. “An emphasis of this study was not only obtaining a thrust estimate from each method, but also comparing the estimates for consistency. The results demonstrate that the in-space performance of the thruster can be predicted from numerical models and laboratory testing.”
Read their full research in the AIAA’s Journal of Propulsion and Power here: https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/epdf/10.2514/1.B39198