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Space & Astronomy

Ion propulsion system undergoes new tests

By T.K. Randall
September 1, 2018 · Comment icon 13 comments

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."

Source: Space Daily | Comments (13)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 6 years ago
This is not the only clickbaity part of the article. Hall-effect thrusters have been used on many Soviet/Russian satellites since atleast 1971. I'm sure this is an improved version, but calling an engine in use for almost 50 years "a revolutionary new type of propulsion" is perhaps pushing it a bit.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Grey Area 6 years ago
Didn’t watch or see the title of the video, off to eat some humble pie now.
Comment icon #6 Posted by pallidin 6 years ago
Outstanding further development in ion-thrust tech. Good job, Aerojet Rocketdyne!!
Comment icon #7 Posted by DieChecker 6 years ago
I was going to mention this isn't exactly "new", but others have beat me to it. I am very glad though that the technology is continuing to develop. I hope someday to vacation for a while in orbit or the Moon.
Comment icon #8 Posted by cyclopes500 6 years ago
I'd stick a pulsating single pole magnetic rail gun on the end and use it to push against the charged gas that's been expelled. It'd look like a circular polorised 40 element yagi ariel with an electron gun at the far end. Gas goes out of the ion engine, down through the loops, 40 pulses each push against the same charged gas atoms in sequence. Each push increases the speed of the space craft. To go faster you gradually increase the frequency of the pulses.
Comment icon #9 Posted by L.A.T.1961 6 years ago
It is a clever design and very reliable. One aspect of this approach seemingly less thought through is providing a power supply ?  To produce sufficient propulsion for a manned space craft would require several hundred KW's of electrical power, the craft's power needs for on board systems would be additional to this while the engines are in use. Solar panels can be used but they lose efficiency as they move away from the Sun. As an example the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft uses 12 square meters of panels to generate 2.6 KW at a distance of 1 AU from Sun. This drops to 1.4 KW at 1.4 AU, a bit less... [More]
Comment icon #10 Posted by cyclopes500 6 years ago
Comment icon #11 Posted by TripGun 6 years ago
Good, but not enough thrust to be practical, escape velocity would require a supplemental system. 
Comment icon #12 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 6 years ago
You have totally missed the point of ion propulsion. It delivers a small thrust for a very long time, accelerating a spacecraft to far higher speeds than the short burst of high thrust provided by a chemical rocket. Not only does it has more than enough thrust to be practical ion propulsion is already in use (four missions to asteroids, NASA's Dawn and OSIRIS-Rex and JAXA's Hayabusa 1 and 2, have all used ion propulsion). Nope, ion propulsion is a far better system for reaching escape velocity. I suspect what you actually mean is orbital velocity, and yes ion propulsion is not practical for th... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by TripGun 6 years ago
Yes, I do mean Earth's gravity. ION drives are not new technology and I stand by my opinion that they are not practical in application, only in research grants to obtain funding.

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