Successfully reached 1000 hours of continuous operation of the iodine Fed Advanced Cusp Field Thruster (iFACT).
The iFACT team of researchers is excited to announce that they have successfully reached the important 1000 hours milestone of continuous operation of the iodine Fed Advanced Cusp Field Thruster (iFACT).
Multiple kilograms of iodine have been fed through the thruster already, thus we are on track to finally provide experimental evidence that the Airbus thruster technology meets performance and efficiency needs without presenting performance degradation over several thousand hours of operation. This means that we would be able to use iodine as propellant, without coping with undesired challenges like clogging or material incompatibilities. Iodine could replace the noble gas xenon that is used today in space to electrically control probes and satellites with an ion-drive, thus reducing the overall operational costs and being a more efficient and competitive alternative in terms of safety, fuel cost and volume savings on board.
Firing of the 300W subsystem with iodine
The firing of the 300W subsystem with iodine was performed within the electric propulsion facility of Airbus Germany in Friedrichshafen. The plasma discharge shows the characteristic color of an iodine discharge. These are tests that the project researchers are currently performing with the engine in order to characterize but also to have a fully pre-tested subsystem ready before Q2 of 2021, when the project team aims to start the 3000 hours test at Aerospazio.
300W iFACT subsystem
The picture shows the integrated 300W iFACT subsystem, consisting of the ACFT thruster and the iodine feeding including a tank suitable to host 10 kg of iodine. The subsystem will be endurance tested from now until the beginning of 2021, followed by a 3000h firing in the new iodine compatible test facility of Aerospazio in Italy.
The first integration has taken place in Q4 of 2020, but the thruster was earlier tested with Xenon, Krypton, and iodine.
10W Advanced Cusp Field
The first pictures are available of the new 10W Advanced Cusp Field that was manufactured within iFACT project as part of the CubeSat Subsystem demonstrator breadboard and it stands next to a standard 9V block to illustrate its size. The thruster will be capable to generate up to 1 mN of thrust. It will integrate with a cathode, iodine feeding, and electronics to a subsystem that shall be coupled with an Endurosat CubeSat platform in Q3 of 2021. The iFACT research team performs ongoing tests on this activity.
The first firing of the Cubesat ACFT as part of the thruster characterization campaign
The first firing of the Cubesat ACFT as part of the thruster characterization campaign. The thruster is fired with xenon, which results in a characteristic blue color of the plasma discharge. The xenon test data is taken as a reference for the follow-on tests with iodine as the propellant. These tests are ongoing and further results will be frequently announced.
300W advanced cusp field thruster characterization
We are glad to present a preliminary result of the 300 W advanced cusp field thruster characterization that has been performed. The values of this characterization are used as a reference in order to be compared with the results of the ongoing iodine characterization. The thruster designed over the course of the iFACT programme shows good performance with total efficiencies of up to 44 % over a wide throttle range.
Following the successful PDR in Q2 of 2020, we have manufactured the hardware during summer and characterized the Advanced Cusp Field thruster with Xenon and Krypton in Q3 of 2020 preparing this way the ground for the Iodine testing that the iFACT research team is currently conducting.