T4i wins an ESA contract to upgrade an ESTEC facility for iodine testing

Jul 18, 2022

T4i has been awarded an ESA contract to upgrade the FEEP vacuum facility for testing of iodine-fed propulsive systems.
FEEP vacuum facility is one of the chambers present at the ESA Propulsion Laboratory at ESTEC. Since its commissioning it has been used to recreate low vacuum conditions and consequently perform test activities on firing plasma thrusters and cathodes.
Nowadays the most common propellant is xenon, but its utilization is associated to three main drawbacks, its high cost, toxicity, and complicated systems to store it on-board. In order to overcome these issues, in the past decades researchers have started looking for alternative propellants, such as iodine. Its physical properties permit to have good propulsive performance while having simple storage conditions on board, being it in a solid state at environmental conditions. The main drawbacks associated to iodine are the minor experience with its usage on propulsive systems in space and its tendency to oxidize the metal it is in contact with, making complicate its application during laboratory test campaigns.

Few European companies are developing propulsive systems that use this metal as propellant and there is currently a little number of facilities able to test them. ESA selected T4i for the FEEP upgrade due to its extensive expertise both on the development of electric propulsion systems fed with solid iodine and on its testing capabilities. 

The activity will end at the end of 2022 and consists of designing, manufacturing, installing, and commissioning the new system in the ESA Propulsion Laboratory (EPL).

“We are glad to start this activity for ESA, it means that our expertise in developing and testing Iodine-fed propulsion systems is acknowledged and valued” said Daniele Pavarin, CEO of T4i.

“I am proud for T4i’s role in this challenging project, which will increase ESA’s capability to support the development of new, state-of-the-art electric propulsion systems based on iodine, such as REGULUS-50-I2.” said Fabio Trezzolani, Senior Electric Propulsion Engineer at T4i and Project Manager of this activity.

“This project is very important for the ESA Propulsion Laboratory and we look forward to its completion. Having the possibility to perform activities with Iodine-fed propulsive systems will permit ESA to enhance its testing capability and to assess the status of these technologies, increasing therefore the quality of the service we can offer to the European companies.” said Jose Gonzalez del Amo, ESA Head of the Electric Propulsion Section, and Luca Bianchi, ESA Propulsion Laboratory Infrastructure & Quality Manager.