ThrustMe’s new sexy iodine electric propulsion system could transform space travel
The use of xenon gas is expensive and however poses many problems. It would be much more economical and practical if we could use a more common ionizing fuel, such as iodine for example. And it turns out that’s exactly what French space technology company ThrustMe designed, developed, deployed and tested. One of the most important aspects engineers must consider when designing spacecraft, even unmanned, is mass. An increase in mass means an increase in the required launch thrust far greater than the increase in mass itself. The use of noble gases like xenon and krypton requires bulky high pressure storage tanks which are dangerous when filled and require their own support structures. Even full, these reservoirs still do not represent an excellent energy density.
ThrustMe also says that iodine is more efficient: “almost 50%” more efficient ionization, in fact. Despite this, it is not without flaws. Apparently, the company’s current iodine-based engines are not as “responsive” as xenon engines. ThrustMe also admits that corrosive iodine requires ceramic containment to prevent corrosion of sensitive structures in spacecraft. Yet these successful tests represent a solid step forward for convenient and affordable space travel.
The concept of using iodine as a fuel for electric motors is not new, and previous testing has shown promise, but ThrustMe has actually tested its motor (known as NPT30-I2) in it. ‘space. A small 20 kilogram CubeSat satellite launched late last year by Chinese company Spacety has been successfully handled and moved by ThrustMe’s iodine thruster. The test results ultimately underwent “rigorous” peer review and are now published in the scientific journal Nature. You can find the paper here.