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Waspie_Dwarf

Solar Electric Propulsion

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Solar Electric Propulsion Aids Cost-Effective Space Exploration

NASA's Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project, managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, is developing large solar arrays and high-powered electric thrusters that could enable cost-effective trips to Mars, asteroids and other destinations in our solar system. SEP will use an electrically propelled system energized by electric power from the on-board solar arrays that will use 10 times less propellant than a comparable, conventional chemical propulsion system. This will allow for reduced fuel mass that still has the capability to propel spacecraft for potential science missions, human exploration missions, or satellite servicing.

Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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It sounds very interesting. I did not understand how the electricity was used to create thrust.

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I did not understand how the electricity was used to create thrust.

The electricity is used to generate a magnetic field which propels charged particles (ions, hence the alternative name - ion drive) from the rear of the spacecraft. Applying Newton's Third Law, "every action has an equal and opposite reaction", the stream of ions from the rear of the spacecraft propels the vehicle forward.

For deeper space missions the electricity can be generated by nuclear power... Nuclear Electric Propulsion.

These forms of propulsion produce a very small thrust in comparison to chemical rockets and hence a small acceleration. They can, however, keep thrusting for months or years instead of minutes, meaning they can reach far higher final speeds.

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