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Iodine Plasma (Electric Propulsion) Interaction with Spacecraft Materials


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Initial mission profile studies have shown iodine will enable micro-satellites to accomplish several Air Force missions using much smaller, cheaper satellites; orbit raising, deorbiting, rendezvous, maintenance mission, orbital debris removal, retrieval of errant spacecraft. Iodine imparts volume-constrained spacecraft with up to three times the impulse compared to existing space propulsion systems (i.e. Hall Effect Thruster with xenon). Iodine is stored as a solid (no high pressure vessels), at density three times those of xenon (impulse density two to three times). Iodine presents unique challenges, though. This research addressed the impact of iodine on solar panel surfaces, spacecraft structures and sensitive instruments on board satellites by providing predictive computational tools to satellite designers. Accumulation of iodine film on spacecraft surfaces will present several unique issues: chemical erosion and iodine adsorption/absorption. Of particular concern would be shorting dielectric surfaces, changing radiator emissivities, and damaging optical coatings. To date, chemical reactivity and chemical erosion of iodine with several satellite materials (steel, aluminum, tantalum, etc.) have been determined and tested.



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