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Clean Power

Published on May 31st, 2013 | by James Ayre


NASA — New Solar Electric Ion Propulsion Engine Image Released

May 31st, 2013 by  

Editor’s note: NASA + solar… big geek win! And holy cow, Batman — look at that wicked NASA image! Try not to drool on your keyboard while you enjoy this Solar Love repost.

NASA recently released a new image of its newest solar-electric propulsion thruster design. The design utilizes xenon ions for propulsion, offering the possibility of a much more efficient means of space travel than chemical rockets can provide. More energy-efficient space travel sounds good, and it’s solar-powered to boot. 🙂

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The new image shows the cutting-edge solar-electric propulsion thruster that is currently in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An earlier version of this design is currently flying on NASA’s Dawn mission — NASA’s first purely exploratory mission to use ion propulsion.

This new design is currently being considered for use as a part of the Asteroid Initiative — NASA’s proposed mission to capture a small near-Earth asteroid and then put into orbit near the Moon, where astronauts can then explore it easily.

The great advantage of ion propulsion — and why the technology is viewed as having so much potential — is its efficiency. The technology offers the possibility of traveling further, faster, and cheaper than conventional technologies allow.

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • guioseppe

    Ha ha ha

    how is a Hall thruster new?

    Russian have been routinely flying those since early 80’s, Air Force have been flying a bunch of those too, including Advanced EHF which was saved by those little guys, and countless telecommunication satellites built in the US or in Europe used them just the same

    damn every once in a while, when stuck out of good idea NASA PR just push a little too hard…

    well may be hall thruster are new to NASA but they are certainly not new to anyone else in space… kinda “New to You”

    poor me who thought that they got a really new idea in terms of propulsion… thanks for the laugh and the lack of journalistic research

  • Wayne Williamson

    They need to start looking at using water…split it into hydrogen(+) and oxygen(-) and use it.

  • J_JamesM

    Xenon, huh? Stuff’s expensive, because it’s so rare. Xenon is only produced by an awesome-sounding process called atmospheric fractional distillation, which involves refrigerating and condensing the atmosphere to wring rare trace gases from it. There are only 75 or so of those distillation plants worldwide, and they only produce a paltry 9 million liters of the stuff every year. That’s because it is about 65 times rarer than Helium is in the atmosphere, and 13 times rarer than Krypton.

    I hope spaceships don’t have to use very much of the stuff, because it would take a loooong time to get all of it… Much less raise the money to buy it.

    • Ross

      The Dawn spacecraft has a total of 425 kilograms of on board propellant for its mission. Each kilogram is used to produce 10 times as much thrust as a conventional hydrogen and oxygen rocket engine.

      Not a small amount but the fuel is still an insignificant part of the costs.

      The lower mass vastly reduces the cost of getting into and out of LEO.

      • J_JamesM

        Yep, yep. It’s all about proportions. At that kind of scale, the rarity shouldn’t be THAT extreme of an issue. Still, the worldwide annual production is only 2,350 kilograms, so that’s still a significant chunk- about a fifth of the world’s annual production for one itty-bitty little spacecraft satellite thingy that’s about as heavy as a sports coupe. Just don’t expect giant sci-fi spaceships to be running on the stuff, is all.

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