Researchers have successfully used iodine to power the spacecraft

(ORDO NEWS) — A team of researchers has found a component that will make electric movement more common in the near future.

Interestingly, this component is not some kind of rare earth mineral, but a common, widespread chemical element – iodine. A satellite powered by iodine was launched into orbit last year, according to an article in the journal Nature.

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), electric propulsion is a much more efficient method of propulsion, as it requires less fuel and can produce it twenty times faster.

This makes it possible to significantly reduce the mass of rocket fuel transported by spacecraft.

Electric propulsion is mainly used for satellite vehicles used for observing the Earth’s surface, as well as for navigation and telecommunications. Currently the most preferred fuel is xenon, which is found in small quantities on Earth. Sometimes krypton was used in some spacecraft.

Infinite Composites CEO Michael Tate said that “krypton and xenon are very dense. They are ideal for electric propulsion systems. ”

However, experts admit that commercial fuel production is costly and volatile in the long term. A joint team of scientists, consisting of French space firm ThrustMe and technical experts from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, decided to use iodine to power the satellite.

According to the ThrustMe website, Iodine can be stored in a solid state inside the spacecraft, unlike xenon, which must be constantly under pressure. The halogen element is converted to a gaseous form, completely bypassing the liquid state. This makes it ideal for applications where gases must be under pressure.

On November 6, 2020, ThrustMe used iodine as fuel on the 20-kg CubeSat satellite and performed the maneuvers necessary to put it into orbit.

The study authors argue that using iodine as fuel could make satellite systems smaller and easier to deploy. It will also make it possible to dispose of satellites at the end of their service life without harm to the atmosphere. Iodine is much cheaper to produce and there is more of it on Earth than xenon. However, the authors also mentioned the disadvantages of the iodine fuel system.

Iodine must be heated before use, which can lead to periods of warming up and cooling down. At a higher level, electric motors become energy intensive, preventing satellites from simultaneously launching and using their primary payloads. This leads to significant downtime, and satellites simply cannot perform their assigned tasks.


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