The developers of the startup stated that the results of the test proved the effectiveness of iodine as a fuel.
French scientists tested their new ThrustMe development, an electric engine powered by iodine. The innovative engine was installed on the CubeSat 12U satellite. It was sent into orbit back in November 2020, using the Changcheng-6 rocket. This is reported by the news portal Space News.
In order to put the development into operation specialists needed a few weeks. The engine on iodine was launched twice for 1.5 hours. According to the French developers, the invention of the new engine is the next step towards the commercialization of the system. One of its advantages is the acceleration of orbit transformation and the rapid re-entry of spent vehicles into the atmosphere, which in turn reduces the amount of debris in space.
In addition, the innovative system provides sufficient thrust with which to maintain the necessary altitude of the satellite. Collisions with other objects can also be avoided with it. Remaining fuel, i.e. iodine and batteries, will explode directly in the spacecraft.
According to the European Space Agency, as of 2021, there are approximately 34,000 pieces of debris, ranging in size from 1 to 10 cm, in orbit around the Earth. Thus a small piece of debris spinning at a few kilometers per second would pose a threat to the spacecraft.
Fuel in the form of iodine is a real breakthrough in the satellite industry. With it, customers will get fully fueled propulsion systems. Iodine fuel will also simplify, and at the same time speed up, the process of integrating satellites.
Satellites mostly use expensive xenon or Krypton fuel, which has to be stored at a certain pressure. Iodine, on the other hand, bypasses the liquid phase, as it turns into a gas when heated.
According to preliminary data, in the near future, the developers of ThrustMe plan to conduct several more similar tests in space.
It is worth noting that a few years ago, NASA has provided the French company financial support for the development of the same electric motor only for microsatellites, developed by American specialists. Thus, the startup ExoTerra Resources will also use low-cost iodine fuel, instead of the explosive xenon.