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NASA's NEXT engine  (Source: nasa.gov)
NEXT is a seven-kilowatt thruster that receives electrical power from solar panels or a nuclear power source

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) ion engine has broken the record for hours of continuous operation.

The NEXT ion thruster has clocked 43,000 hours of continuous operation at NASA's Glenn Research Center's Electric Propulsion Laboratory, breaking the overall record. The 43,000 hours is equivalent to nearly five years of continuous operation.

NEXT is a seven-kilowatt thruster that receives electrical power from solar panels or a nuclear power source instead of burning fuel. The electricity is then used to ionize molecules of xenon and a cathode to accelerate them electrostatically. When the molecules come out of the engine, they create thrust.

For the entire 43,000 hours of continuous operation, NEXT only consumed 770 kg of xenon propellant. The engine would offer 30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse to a spacecraft.

The NEXT ion engine is meant to send spacecraft into deep space missions further and faster with more efficiency than engines that burn fuel.

Making more efficient spacecraft has been an important goal in the space industry. For instance, SpaceX, a private California-based space transport company that was the first of its kind to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) this year, recently showed off its Grasshopper project for reusable rockets. The Grasshopper Project is a Falcon first stage with a landing gear that's capable of taking off and landing vertically. It does this by shooting into orbit, turning around, restarting the engine, heading back to the launch site, changing its direction and deploying the landing gear. The end result is a vertical landing.

Source: NASA



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Comparison to Dawn Spacecraft
By docinct on 1/1/2013 8:36:11 AM , Rating: 2
The article strangely fails to mention the Dawn Spacecraft which is powered by Xenon Ion Propulsion engines. Their projected lifespan matches the 45000 hours of NEXT.
As pointed out the accumulated action of the ion engines is more efficient than liquid fuel (Dawn added 9,600 mph to its launch speed) on equivalent of 16 gals of fuel.
As to comment on turning around to reduce speed, if you do it right the speed of the spacecraft closely matches the target speed when the craft arrives, thus conserving fuel. (Coasting for a while also helps conserve fuel).




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