French startup raises $1.9 million for smallsat electric propulsion

WASHINGTON — A pair of French entrepreneurs have raised 1.7
million euros ($1.9 million) for a new electric propulsion
system to address the small satellite market.

ThrustMe, a startup formed in February by Ane Aanesland
and Dmytro Rafalskyi, two researchers from France’s Ecole
Polytechnique plasma physics laboratory and CNRS, the French
National Center for Scientific Research, raised the money from
Kima Ventures and a collection of U.S. and European angel
investors in order to fund a technology demonstration in the
next 18 months. The startup also plans to use the funding to
double its headcount to 14 and to secure customers.

ThrustMe is one of a growing number of startups creating
products for the fast-growing small satellite market — one that
is now creating its own network of suppliers similar to that of
the traditional satellite manufacturing market. Like the burst
in new launcher companies targeting small satellites, other
parts of the small satellite ecosystem, such as satellite and
component manufacturing as well as satellite control and data
downlinking, are gaining entrants.

In a June 16 statement, ThrustMe said the new capital
builds on 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in previously awarded
government research and development grants. ThrustMe claims
that its electric thruster has double the thrust of a regular
miniaturized electric propulsion system at only 40 percent the
size. The company says its thrusters are also simpler to
integrate into a satellite.

“By going back to the basics of electric space
propulsion, we solved the hurdles in miniaturization, with a
technology which holds the tremendous potential to improve
electric propulsion system for satellites, including the larger
ones,” said Dmytro Rafalskyi, ThrustMe co-founder and chief
technology officer.

Xavier Apolinarki, president of Société d’Accélération du
Transfert de Technologies Paris-Saclay, a French company that
helps to spin off public academic research projects into
companies, said ThrustMe has “worldwide exclusive rights” from
Ecole Polytechnique and CNRS to the patents for the propulsion
technology formed from research there. Aanesland and Rafalskyi
invented the patented technology.

“After 18 months funding the transformation of this
scientific research project at Ecole Polytechnique into a
commercial venture, SATT Paris-Saclay is proud and excited to
continue the adventure with ThrustMe by becoming a shareholder,
a very first time for SATT Paris-Saclay,” Apolinarki said in a
prepared statement.

ThrustMe said its propulsion system is “fully validated”
from thrust measurements performed with ONERA, the French
Aerospace Lab.

The company counts Jean-Jacques Dordain, the former
president of the European Space Agency, and Robert Lainé, the
former chief technology officer of EADS Astrium (now Airbus
Defence and Space) as members of its advisory board. Dordain,
who led ESA from 2003 to 2015, described ThrustMe as “one of
the most innovative and promising startups in Europe.”

Another former Airbus Defence and Space employee, Hélène
Huby, who was head of innovation, is one of ThrustMe’s angel
investors.

“I also believe that we must all help the economy of the
European new space ecosystem to grow alongside the American
one,” she said, echoing comments made by other European space
leaders on the gap between U.S. and European entrepreneurship
in space. European policy makers
have taken additional steps to encourage NewSpace
entrepreneurism in Europe
, such as providing funding
through the Horizons 2020 program, in an effort to close that
gap.

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