Sunday, November 28

Iodine drive successfully tested in space for the first time

Most satellites and space probes are no longer powered by burning fuel. Instead, so-called ion drives are used. To put it simply, a gas is ionized. This creates a plasma that is then accelerated and ejected by electrostatic forces. This creates the desired propulsion. Such a form of drive is fundamentally very efficient and requires little drive. There is, however, one problem: up to now, the noble gas xenon has generally had to be used. But that happens very rarely on earth and is accordingly expensive. Experts also assume that the number of satellites and probes launched into space will continue to increase sharply in the next few years. As a result, the demand could finally exceed the supply. The consequence would be significantly higher prices.

Bild: Thrust Me

A mini satellite has already successfully practiced evasive maneuvers

This problem could possibly be solved by the French startup “Thrust Me”. Because the company was looking for a cheaper and more readily available ion fuel and has designed an iodine drive. With this type of drive, the iodine is first melted and placed in a ceramic framework. This can then simply be built into the tank. In order to generate propulsion, the iodine must then be heated so that iodine gas is produced, which is then fed into a plasma chamber. This is where the mechanisms of the ion drive come into play, which ultimately ensure that a plasma jet is ejected. The concept has since been successfully tested in space. The Cubesat mini-satellite, which is equipped with an iodine drive, weighs around twenty kilograms and successfully completed a total of eleven tests there. Among other things, an evasive maneuver was tested in order to avoid collisions with other objects.

Less money for more performance

The use of iodine propulsion potentially has a number of advantages. First of all, it is significantly cheaper than the alternatives previously used. On the one hand, this is due to the good availability of iodine. At the same time, however, the drive itself also has to be designed in a significantly less complex manner. Xenon can only be stored in titanium high-pressure tanks. These special devices are not required when using iodine. Specifically, the cost of the iodine fuel during the test maneuvers was around sixty dollars. In addition, there was another $ 200 for the built-in technology. With a xenon engine, on the other hand, the purchase of the noble gas required would have cost 1,275 dollars. In addition: the iodine drive is even more efficient. With the same mass flow rate and radio frequency power, a drive jet that is around half stronger was generated. So iodine is not only a cheaper alternative to xenon, but in most cases also a better one.

Via: Thrust Me

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