The most important thing to consider in any of the maneuverable spacecraft is the rocket fuel. Similarly, for ion thrusters also this goes the same although they do use the traditional chemical fuel but they need source of fuel for the iodine engines. A team from a company named ThrustMe, a branch of École polytechnic and CNRS have developed an ion thruster using a unique propellant iodine.
Existing thrusters use xenon as propellant which when compared to iodine has many disadvantages. Some of them are, xenon is gas whereas iodine is in a solid state at room temperature and pressure. Also iodine gets vaporized to gas when it is heated that allows the propulsion and storage system of the spacecraft to work in two state of material.
The main focus of iodine is to replace gas as iodine is much easier to handle, also less expensive in terms of cost and non-toxic. The other advantage of iodine is it is dense than the other technologies which will be very useful for the environment of small satellites.
In this competitive market they want to replace the CubeSat with ThrustMe unique type of thruster. Bu building this type of less expensive thruster they just want to deal with the problems like space junk and deorbiting. While moving downwards it is very easy to control the satellite at the end of its life with this type of propellant as it creates less ruined junk in space and also ensures that anything entering the atmosphere is not going to harm anything on the ground.
The system has successfully been tested out through a mission launched in last November. It is now looking to control the orbit of the satellite as a proof to demonstrate the concept to the future customers. After it success there might be interest in the astronomers’ community to use iodine in space exploration in the near future.