The startup ThrustMe has announced the first ever flight of a satellite powered by an iodine ion engine.

The iodine ion engine has high efficiency, durability, and cheap consumables.

Xenon is popular today, but the fuel is difficult and expensive to produce. The authors of the new work from the startup ThrustMe decided to create and test their own alternative. They used iodine, which, unlike most other solids, when heated does not turn into a liquid, but directly into a gas.

Therefore, this fuel does not require gas tanks, pressure control systems, or other components specific to xenon ion engines. As a result, the engine can be made smaller and simpler in design.

The startup sent its prototype engine into orbit last year. The developers have now published a detailed test report. The flight was successful and the experimental satellite completed all planned maneuvers using the new iodine engine.

The prototype engine – NPT30-I2 – is a 10 cm³ device. Inside there is a container with iodine crystals, it is connected to a chamber for the ionization of iodine atoms, as well as devices and electrodes with which the engine can be controlled. According to the results of the first year of operation of the engine, it turned out that it surpasses xenon counterparts by about 50%. It can also hold a larger volume of fuel.