NOV 24, 2021 5:00 PM PST

The First Iodine-Propulsion System Successfully Tested in Space

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

Scientists have successfully tested the first rocket in space propelled by an unconventional element: iodine.

To fire a rocket ship into space, you need thrust. Thrust is generated by a propulsion system, and the combustion of a material generates propulsion. The principle of propulsion is based on Newton’s third law of motion, and combustion of a fuel system propels a rocket forward and up into space. It’s literally rocket science, and if you want a more in-depth overview of the subject, you can watch the video below by Lesics:

The iodine rocket was successfully manufactured and tested by a company called ThrustMe. ThrustMe is an engineering company based in France, and they offer alternative propulsion solutions for the growing space industry, due to the increase in satellite constellations. This week, the company published an article in Nature detailing their success of the first in-orbit demonstration of an iodine-propelled rocket.

There is a need for more sustainable propulsion systems. Satellites use ion thrusters to propel them through space because of their high fuel efficiency since satellites can’t carry a lot of fuel. The most common propellant used in ion-thrusters is xenon, but it’s expensive and not easy to come by since there’s a lot of market competition for the element. Xenon also needs to be stored at high pressure. Iodine, on the other hand, can be stored unpressurized as a solid.

The iodine propulsion system was launched within the NPT30-12 test craft about two years ago and has been gathering data ever since. One of the reasons why iodine has been dismissed as an alternative for xenon is due to its corrosive nature. The manufacturers of the NPT30-12 circumvented this issue by storing iodine in technical ceramics (aluminum oxide and zirconium oxide) as a solid. They coated potentially reactive metal surfaces with a polymer film as well.

Iodine has been studied by other research institutions before, but this is the first time that an iodine-propulsion system has been successfully tested in space. The results are impressive: iodine has a nearly 50% performance enhancement when compared to xenon. The researchers at ThrustMe believe that these results will inspire other manufacturers to adopt alternative propulsion systems, both for satellites and other space missions.

Sources: ThrustMe, Nature

About the Author
  • Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional a minor in Creative Writing. She is currently located in the Washington D.C. area pursuing freelance writing opportunities and full-time science communications positions. In her free time, Hannah likes to watch science fiction movies and interrogate the truthfulness of their claims.
You May Also Like
AUG 25, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Self-Assembling Molecules: A Potential "One-Size-Fits-All" Cancer Therapy
AUG 25, 2021
Self-Assembling Molecules: A Potential "One-Size-Fits-All" Cancer Therapy
A new study from the University of Huddersfield shows promising breakthroughs on the use of self-assembling molecules as ...
AUG 30, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Arctic Could Be "Practically Ice Free" Before 2050
AUG 30, 2021
Arctic Could Be "Practically Ice Free" Before 2050
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) recent physical climate science report details the ...
SEP 02, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
SEP 02, 2021
The Future of Room-Temperature Superconductors
It begins with two diamonds, a pinch of carbon, sulfur, and a whiff of hydrogen gas. The result is the world’s fir ...
OCT 13, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
OCT 13, 2021
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry
It's Nobel Prize season, and the third to be awarded was in the field of Chemistry. The winners were two men working on ...
OCT 14, 2021
Plants & Animals
The Physics of Insect Swarms
OCT 14, 2021
The Physics of Insect Swarms
Do you know those pesky bugs that happen swarm in front of your door right as you open it? Those swarms and the insects ...
OCT 31, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Create & Sustain Otherworldly 'Superionic' Ice
OCT 31, 2021
Researchers Create & Sustain Otherworldly 'Superionic' Ice
Water can assume an astonishing array of conformations. It can be a liquid, vapor, or different kinds of solids. Scienti ...
Loading Comments...