“A new electric thruster that blasts out iodine has now been successfully tested in orbit, a milestone that could help lead to significantly tinier, simpler, cheaper and higher-performance engines for satellites and spacecraft, a new study reports.
Conventional rockets use chemical reactions to drive propulsion. In contrast, electric thrusters produce thrust by using electric power to accelerate propellants such as electrically charged ions away from a spacecraft.
Electric propulsion generates much less thrust than chemical rockets, making it too weak to launch a spacecraft from Earth’s surface. But electric thrusters are highly efficient at producing thrust, given the small amount of propellant they carry. This makes them very useful for spacecraft that are already in space.”