One of the important areas of concern today is space waste, as more and more satellites are being put into Earth orbit. If satellites fail or become useless, they are often left orbiting the Earth, which poses a risk to operating satellites. Researchers have created a new iodine engine that could improve the mission life of small satellites orbiting the Earth for various reasons, from monitoring crops to providing internet access.
The challenge for smaller satellites is that they are more susceptible to the upper atmosphere than larger satellites that carry propulsion and fuel engines. a company ThrustMe has developed a new type of electric propellant that uses iodine as a propellant. Iodine is less expensive and requires simpler technology than conventional fuels.
Another important benefit is that iodine is non-toxic and hardens at room temperature and pressure, making it easier and cheaper to handle on the floor. However, when iodine is heated, it turns into a gas without going through a liquid phase, making it ideal for a simple propulsion system. Since iodine is less dense than conventional fuel, it occupies smaller quantities aboard the satellite. Space is on top of small satellites which makes this feature important.
ThrustMe launched its iodine engine on a commercial nanoscale research satellite called SpaceTy Beihangkongshi-1 that was launched in November 2020. The booster was tested earlier this month before being used to alter the satellite’s orbit. It is unclear when the next test with an impulse will be done at this time.
This kind of thrust could be a game-changer for small satellites. The impulse can be used to keep small satellites in orbit for longer, and they can also be used to propel them into the atmosphere, where they burn up on re-entry when they’re not needed.