February 26, 2021

French startups illustrate iodine propulsion as a possible aid to reduce space debris efforts

2 min read

The first on-orbit experiments of a revolutionary iodine-fuelled electric propulsion system have been carried out by a French startup firm by the name ThrustMe, demonstrating its ability to adjust the orbit of a CubeSat. Aboard Beihangkongshi-1, the 12U CubeSat built by the Chinese commercial satellite manufacturer Spacety is the ThrustMe’s NPT30-I2-1U, which is the first iodine electric propulsion module sent into orbit. In November, Long March 6 rocket has sent a satellite into space, tagging the Argentina-based remote sensing company Satellogic together with a bunch of satellites. After days of commissioning, two 90-minute bursts in the late December, as well as early January, evaluated the propulsion system.

As per a ThrustMe media release, the burns culminated in a cumulative change in the height of 700 meters. The companies believe the findings show that iodine is a suitable propellant for the electric propulsion systems and represents a move towards the system’s commercialization. Notably, the machine may have an effect on attempts to maintain space. It helps a tiny satellite reduce its altitude, decrease its orbit period, see the satellite combust upon re-entry into atmosphere of the Earth, and aid decrease space debris in the lower orbit of the Earth. The creation comes when so-called megaconstellations, each composed of hundreds of satellites, are deployed by national space agencies as well as private companies.

The low-mass platform also offers small satellites with propulsive capability for sustaining orbits and preventing collisions, in addition to speeding up deorbiting. The essential contributors to the increasing space debris issue are fires triggered by residual fuel as well as batteries for the satellites as well as rockets and the collisions between the spacecraft. As of January 2021, the European Space Agency reports that there will be 34,000 debris items bigger than 10 centimeters in size as well as 900,000 parts between one and ten centimeters in the orbit. Even the smallest pieces, flying at multiple kilometers per second, will endanger satellites, such as the International Space Station.

ThrustMe says that it is a milestone for the satellite sector to use iodine as a propellant. It enables propulsion modules to be shipped to customers entirely prefilled and substantially simplified and optimized for the satellite integration process. In comparison, most traditional electric propulsion technologies use uncommon, costly xenon or krypton that often demands high-pressure storage. Solid iodine converts to gas when it is heated without going into a liquid process.

“It was a long journey to get this commodity from vision to reality. We had to innovate, build a complex device from the ground up, and conduct basic science experiments to make it possible because many iodine characteristics are lacking in scientific databases,” said Dmytro Rafalskyi, ThrustMe’s CTO.

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