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The primary objectives for project IFM Nano are:
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 throttlability, and a high specific impulse (up to 5000 s), allow to significantly increase the mission range of such satellites in low orbits. 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. The combination of high Isp with medium very well controllable thrust levels in a small and light package makes the IFM Nano thruster a strong competitor for existing colloid, cold gas, or Hall effect thrusters.
Mechanically, the thruster comprises a tank filled with the metal propellant and rigidly connected to the crown emitter. The extractor anode, which is part of the top plate, is separated via an isolator from the electronics compartment and the tank. An optional housing encloses all parts but is not required for mechanical stability.
Electrically, the thruster is commanded via the spacecraft bus via I2C or UART. The central command and control module is connected to the independent power supplies for the heater, the two cathodes (two separate supplies), the emitter, and the extractor.
The project starts with a PDR after which two engineering models are manufactured. Both engineering models are subjected to environmental tests including shock and vibration tests, thermal vacuum tests and performance tests. Three dedicated test campaigns are initiated:
The project is finished. All the work as outlined in the project plan is performed. Meanwhile, a successful in-orbit demonstration of the IFM Nano Thruster has taken place. A spin-off company was founded (Enpulsion GmbH) that commercially sells the thruster. Several thruster are currently flying in space. Derivatives of the IFM Nano Thruster are currently under development in a joint effort between FOTEC and Enpulsion.