Friday, December 3

Why iodine poses a (small) revolution for future satellites in space


After being launched into space, the satellites have propulsion systems that allow them to move there with precision, and in those systems one of the key elements is propellant gas, which for years has been xenon.

This gas has the problem of being very expensive and of needing to be stored at very high pressures, but the French company ThrustMe has developed a propulsion system that makes use of iodine, much cheaper and that it can also be stored in solid format. The first tests have been successful, and that raises simpler and cheaper designs for future satellites.

Ni xenón ni kriptón

The rise of miniaturized satellites makes these kinds of advances important. Although many satellites use solar energy for their propulsion systems, propellant gas is still required, and xenon had been the traditional choice although Elon Musk has already adopted krypton, much cheaper.

Xenon is not ideal, however, due to its price and the requirement of having to be stored at high pressures, but krypton does not seem the best alternative either: a recent article published in Nature indicated how although “krypton is cheaper, it needs a complex storage and distribution system“.

ThrustMe CTO Dmytro Rafalskyi explained in The Register how “Xenon is the heaviest non-radioactive noble gas. That is why xenon came into play and when it started to be used, the costs of space missions was already huge enough. That made the cost of xenon not seem so bad, but we can’t miniaturize the technology and the cost. [de hacerlo] it’s crazy“.

For small satellites of about 100 kg that are becoming increasingly popular, finding an alternative to xenon was very important, and that’s where the iodine comes in, which in fact has been proposed as an alternative since the 70s.

The potential of iodine had barely been developed beyond the field of medicine, and Rafalskyi and his team began to study it already. deal with issues like its corrosive capabilities. After successfully developing a solution to control that problem, the ThrustMe team put a satellite into orbit to test their solution.

The satellite, launched in November 2020, managed to fulfill its mission successfully, which has made ThrustMe begin to roll out its plans to work with a dozen clients. Its managers hope to be able to produce 100 of these systems a year to meet the growing demand for small satellites.

Via | The Register



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