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SMi Military PNT 2020  Satellite Communications Technology

Busek delivers first all-iodine electric propulsion systems

(23 January 2020 - Busek) Space propulsion firm Busek has confirmed the first two deliveries of its BIT-3 ion thruster, a revolutionary all-iodine solar electric propulsion system.

The compact, low power thruster system is a key enabling technology for a number of upcoming small satellite missions including Lunar IceCube program lead by Kentucky’s Morehead State University, and LunaH-Map lead by Arizona State University.

Both missions are manifest as a ride-shares on NASA’s SLS Artemis-1, and both missions rely on the Busek thruster to inject the satellite into a lunar capture orbit. After successful capture, the BIT-3 thruster will provide controlled descent to a science-mission altitude of roughly 100 km (62 mi), where the teams’ science instruments will survey the Moon for water ice. Accurate mapping of Lunar ice deposits is a critical first step for long-term human lunar missions and cis-lunar infrastructure development.

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BIT-3 ion thruster (courtesy: Busek)

"The BIT-3 represents a technology that will enable future exploration of the solar system with small satellite platforms. Low thrust propulsion systems like the BIT-3 combined with low energy manifold trajectories that make up the interplanetary superhighway, have the potential to usher in a new era of planetary exploration." said Prof. Ben Malphrus, Principal Investigator of Morehead State University’s Lunar IceCube mission.

“Iodine electric propulsion has unique potential amongst safe propellant choices for small exploration missions. The BIT-3’s size and performance plays a critical role in Arizona State’s mission to the moon.” added Dr. Craig Hardgrove, Principal Investigator for the LunaH-Map mission.

The BIT-3 iodine thruster system is capable of generating up to two kilometers per second (4,474 MPH) of delta-v for cubesats, opening the possibility for small spacecraft to complete a range of missions previously reserved for large, high-cost satellites. BIT-3 is a true turn-key system and includes highly integrated control electronics, iodine storage and feed system, thruster, neutralizer, and optional gimbal for attitude control.

The BIT-3’s Chief Scientist and Program Manager, Dr. Mike Tsay said, ‘The key to the system’s compact size, efficiency, and performance density are its use of solid iodine propellant. Iodine eliminates the need for bulky pressurized gas storage and feed components. We hurdled significant obstacles to adapt the use of iodine in ion engines and the lessons we’ve learned are informing a range of activities here at Busek’.

About Busek

Busek Co. Inc. is an Industry leader in the development and manufacture of high performance in-space propulsion systems. The firm’s satellite products include highly efficient solar electric propulsion systems such as Hall thrusters, electrospray thrusters, ion thrusters, as well as green monopropellant thrusters. From one-off science missions to high volume production, Busek’s expertise across multiple space propulsion disciplines enables it to provide unbiased technology solutions to best fit customers’ needs.