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Iodine as an Alternative Fuel for Electric Propulsion

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University of Alabama Tuscaloosa United States

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The targeted goal of this research is to quantify propellant-materials impacts on spacecraft when using iodine as a propellant.Iodine is an attractive replacement for xenon in electric space propulsion for volume constrained satellites due to its high-density at standard condition. Iodine provides similar performance characteristic as xenon, but presents reactivity issues for many commonly used spacecraft materials. Much of the previous research on iodine reactions was performed fifty to one hundred years ago, and focuses primarily iodine and pure metal reactions. This research focuses on iodine plasma and its interactions with spacecraft materials. Two feed systems were built one for the material testing apparatus and one for cathode testing. Three different cathode configurations provided by Plasma Controls LLC were tested with iodine. A tantalum cathode with a graphite liner was tested for a total of 44 hours. Based on test results, this cathode design is promising for future long duration testing. Current electric propulsion devices have proven their worth and won their place for large, conventional satellites. These high-efficiency devices do not meet mission requirements for small, volume constrained space vehicles, though. Trade studies using iodine as a propellant show superior system-level performance when compared to existing xenon based systems. Iodine stores at three times the density without the need for a high pressure vesselsystem, making it possible for small satellites 180 kg to accomplish large satellite missions e.g. lunar reconnaissance, near-Earth asteroid visits.

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Technical Report,01 Mar 2017,28 Feb 2019



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Approved For Public Release;

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