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RSC Energia is working on a new electrical rocket engine

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Thu Jun 21, 2018 9:32 pm via: Energia
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RSC Energia specialists have patented a system of iodine storage and feeding for an advanced electrical rocket engine (ERE).

The idea to use pure reactive iodine as the so-called working medium of an engine – the substance needed to generate propulsive thrust – was put forward as early as 1990s by a senior research scientist of the Corporation Valeri Ostrovsky.

In 2006 he took out the initial patents. A research effort on this subject began in 2012 upon an initiative of Boris Sokolov, an outstanding domestic propulsion expert, an honored veteran of Energia.

First tests using a standard plasma thruster demonstrated the feasibility of using iodine: the thruster equipped with an additional gas distribution device, was started using xenon, while iodine kept up the discharge.

After that designers proceeded with the development of the iodine supply system, which was eventually patented.

The advantage of the iodine thruster consists, first of all, in its cost efficiency. Existing electric thrusters traditionally use as propellant xenon, which is significantly more expensive than iodine. In addition to this, xenon storage and feeding system is fairly complex and bulky, which significantly increases the size and mass of the propulsion system. Another important aspect is that the amount of the industrial output of xenon is insufficient to meet the future challenges of spaceflight, such as lunar missions.

Iodine, on the other hand, is easily stored in solid state and can be easily gasified without using a multi-stage pressure reducing system. During life tests it is also possible to recycle the iodine. As a result, the cost of ground developmental testing of such a thruster is tens of times lower, while the parameters of the iodine thrusters are at least as good as those of the xenon thrusters.

The thruster configuration proposed by the Energia designers will be equipped with a non-consumable neutralizing cathode, which will make it possible to do without an additional gaseous working medium – xenon or argon. Such a thruster can be used as a main engine, or for orbital corrections, for example, in communications satellites, as well as to meet deep space transportation needs.

- The developers are going to conduct ground tests of the propulsion system as early as late June, – said one of the project managers, design engineer Pavel Shcherbina.

Scheduled for 2022 is the experiment ‘Ostrovsky’ which was named after the author of the idea. It is proposed to conduct the first part of the experiment onboard the ISS, while the second part will use a Progress logistics spacecraft. After undocking the spacecraft will stay in orbit one more month to test the new iodine electrical rocket thrusters.

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