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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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By Alexvrb on 1/1/2013 8:45:50 PM , Rating: 3
So... no gravity well? Once you're past a certain point, that issue vanishes... but then again after a certain point the solar winds will also cease to aid you. More importantly, is your craft guaranteed to have perfectly even heat radiation? Is space is a perfect vacuum? The deceleration might be almost negligible, but it exists.

Anyway, the "turn around" part of his post indicated that he was talking about a mission to a specific destination, like Mars. If you just keep on accelerating... it makes for a rough landing. Now for deep space exploration, you wouldn't need to turn around and fire the engine the other way, of course.


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