NASA's NEXT Ion Thruster Breaks a Record for Continuous Operation
December 31, 2012 5:53 PM
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NASA's NEXT engine
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.
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
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.
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1/1/2013 1:24:39 PM
"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."
The thrust actually occurs when the ionized Xenon atoms are electostatically accelerated (force = mass times acceleration).
RE: Nit picking
1/1/2013 1:38:52 PM
30 million-newton-seconds of total impulse
You missed this one - the actual unit is "newton-second". "Million-" is not a part of the unit (but "mega-" would be).
Then again countries like Burma and United States haven't adopted SI unit system just yet so it's easier to understand why Tiffany might be unfamiliar with its intricacies.
RE: Nit picking
1/2/2013 9:56:00 AM
True, but I was trying to point out the fundamental difference between a regular rocket engine which generates thrust from an expanding gas, and the Ion Thruster which seems to generate thrust directly by accelerating individual charged particles through a voltage gradient. Probably verly little thrust is developed due to the plasma expanding (but probably more than one would expect, since the particles are charged and would repel one another). An explanation of this would interest me more than most of this article has).
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