Ion propulsion will prove invaluable for future deep space missions. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
A revolutionary new type of propulsion system for use in deep space missions has reached another milestone.
Known as the Hall-effect thruster (HET), the new propulsion system uses electric and magnetic fields to ionize a propellant (such as argon or xenon) and then expels the ions to produce thrust.
The main advantage of ion thrusters over conventional chemical rockets is a much greater fuel efficiency, making it possible to propel a spacecraft up to much higher velocities.
Rocket manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne is currently building and testing Hall thrusters as part of NASA's Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) program.
Most recently, the firm has reported that its early systems integration test has been successfully completed, proving that the system can convert power at a high level of efficiency.
"By staying on the cutting edge of propulsion technology, we have positioned ourselves for a major role not only in getting back to the Moon, but also in any future initiative to send people to Mars," said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president Eileen Drake.
"Our AEPS discharge supply unit performed exceptionally, yielding significant conversion efficiency improvements important for future demanding missions."
"These results are a testament to the Aerojet Rocketdyne team's focus and dedication to advancing the state of the art in this critical in-space technology area."