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NEXT: Lasting Propulsion and High Speeds

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NEXT Provides Lasting Propulsion and High Speeds for Deep Space Missions

Ion propulsion used to exist only in the imagination of science fiction writers. But after years of research and development NASA is poised to equip some of its most important deep space missions with ion engines that can nudge spacecraft using charged particles accelerated to blistering speeds of up to 90,000 miles per hour. And in the vastness of space, those engines need to push continuously for years.

NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) project, managed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, has completed a test that powered the ion engine for over 48,000 hours. That’s five and a half years of thruster operation, making it the longest duration test of any space propulsion system in history.

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Gridded Ion Thruster

A gridded ion thruster uses electrical energy to create, accelerate and neutralize positively charged ions to generate thrust. The discharge chamber is responsible for the creation of ions when neutral atoms and electrons collide while the magnetic field containing the electrons increases ionization efficiency.

The screen and accelerator electrodes accelerate the ions to extremely high speeds using electric fields. The neutralizer provides additional electrons to balance the overall charge being ejected from the thruster and keep the spacecraft electrically neutral.

Learn more at go.nasa.gov/18IWxYY

NASA animation credit:

Eric S. Mindek (Wyle Information Systems, LLC)

Video Credit: NASA

Source: NASA - Multimedia

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