Estimates suggest that between 17,000-50,000 satellites could be launched over the next 10 years, the vast majority of which will require onboard propulsion systems. Electric propulsion is particularly attractive because of its high fuel efficiency, and some of the most successful technologies employed to date include gridded ion and Hall thrusters. Such systems have historically used xenon as a propellant, however xenon is very rare and global production is both limited and susceptible to strong market fluctuations. An emerging alternative propellant is iodine which was first tested in space in 2020. Iodine is almost 100x cheaper than xenon, and in addition, can be stored unpressurized as a solid. While iodine has been successfully demonstrated as a propellant, several challenges remain in developing all-iodine electric propulsion systems, particularly with regards to neutralizers – electron emitting devices needed for the operation and/or neutralization of ion beams. Aside from challenges associated with iodine-compatible materials, the strong electron affinity and unique plasma chemistry of iodine can lead to the formation of large quantities of negative ions that affect the electron extraction capability of some neutralizers.

This is a theoretical/computational PhD project that will explore iodine-fuelled neutralizers for electric propulsion systems by taking advantage of recently calculated collision cross-sections to develop theoretical/numerical plasma models. This modelling will help to better understand fundamental iodine plasma discharge physics and aid in the development or proposal of future neutralizer technologies.

The project will be performed in collaboration with the Laboratoire de Physique des Plasmas (LPP) at Ecole Polytechnique situated just south of Paris, France. There is potential for a student to travel to France for several weeks during their PhD to perform iodine experiments at LPP and to interact with several leading researchers in electric propulsion.

The ideal candidate will have a background in physics and/or engineering with strong mathematical, programming, and communication skills. This project is open to domestic and international students.

How to Apply

Express your interest in this project by emailing Dr Trevor Lafleur at Include a copy of your CV and your academic transcript(s). 

School / Research Area

Engineering and Information Technology, UNSW Canberra

Lecturer, PG Space Program Coordinator George Bowden
Lecturer, PG Space Program Coordinator