Connect with us

French Aerospace Company Tests Iodine-Powered Thrusters

Credit: Unsplash

It’s the spaceship fuel of the future!

Many modern spacecraft have begun employing ion thrusters in their design in lieu of typical gas-powered engines. Ion thrusters can fire both harder and longer, so they’re great for getting vessels quickly up into orbit. Someday, if we ever manage to get off Earth long term, it’s a safe bet that ion thrusters will play a part. However, the main drawback to ion thrusters is their fuel source: xenon gas. Xenon is one of the rarest of the noble gases, which makes using it as thruster fuel a tricky and potentially expensive endeavor. To make ion thrusters a little more economical, a French aerospace company is trying out a new fuel source.

French aerospace company ThrustMe has begun testing iodine as a replacement for xenon gas in ion thrusters. Compared to xenon, iodine is cheap as dirt; you can find the stuff absolutely everywhere, from seaweed to dairy products. Even your plain old table salt is absolutely lousy with iodine. You ever look at a can of Morton’s Salt? It’s right there on the label!

“Iodine is significantly more abundant and cheaper than xenon and has the added advantage that it can be stored unpressurized as a solid,” Dmytro Rafalskyi, CTO and co-founder of ThrustMe, said in a statement.

Rafalskyi and his research team have successfully developed an ion thruster prototype powered exclusively by iodine fuel. Using this prototype, ThrustMe was able to successfully launch a test satellite into orbit. A paper on this launch was published in the scientific journal Nature.

“Although iodine is viewed as a game-changing propellant and has been investigated by companies, universities and space agencies around the world,” the team writes in their paper, “no system has previously been tested in space.”

The only downside to iodine is its naturally corrosive properties, which can make storing it as a solid fuel a bit of a tricky prospect. The ThrustMe team is developing workarounds for this, and so far have had some success using ceramic-coated containers.