Iodine-Powered Satellite Successfully Tested In Space For First Time

Tesseractic shares a report from New Scientist, written by Chen Ly: A satellite has been successfully powered by iodine for the first time. Iodine performed better than the traditional propellant of choice, xenon -- highlighting iodine's potential utility for future space missions. Currently, xenon is the main propellant used in electric propulsion systems, but the chemical is rare and expensive to produce. As a gas, xenon must also be stored at very high pressures, which requires specialized equipment. Iodine has a similar atomic mass to xenon but is more abundant and much cheaper. It can also be stored as an unpressurised solid, meaning it has the potential to simplify satellite designs. Dmytro Rafalskyi at ThrustMe, a space technology company based in France, and his colleagues have developed an electric propulsion system that uses iodine. The propulsion system first heats up a solid block of iodine, turning it into a gas. The gas is bombarded with high-speed electrons, which turns it into a plasma of iodine ions and free electrons. Negatively charged hardware then accelerates the positively charged iodine ions from the plasma towards the system's exhaust and propels the spacecraft forwards. [...] The group found that the iodine system slightly outperformed xenon systems, with a higher overall energy efficiency, which showcases the viability of iodine as a propellant. "There are some difficulties with iodine that need to be addressed says Rafalskyi," the report adds. "For example, iodine reacts with most metals, so the team had to use ceramics and polymers to protect parts of the propulsion system. In addition, solid iodine takes about 10 minutes to turn into a plasma, which may not provide a propellant quickly enough for emergency maneuvers to avoid an in-orbit collisions." The research has been published in the journal Nature.

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