Tag Archives: ion engine

A NASA ion engine has successfully completed more than five and a half years of continuous operation.

A NASA ion engine has successfully completed more than five and a half years of continuous operation.

During the endurance test performed in a high vacuum test chamber at Glenn, the engine consumed about 1,918 pounds (870 kilograms) of xenon propellant, providing an amount of total impulse that would take more than 22,000 (10,000 kilograms) of conventional rocket propellant for comparable applications.

So, now what? Will this engineering achievement be filed away, like so many other past NASA engineering projects, or will it be used for something?

An ion test engine has set a new record for continuous operation.

An ion test engine has set a new record for continuous operation.

The NEXT ion thruster is one of NASA’s latest generation of engines. With a power output of seven kilowatts, it’s over twice as powerful as the ones used aboard the unmanned Dawn space probe. Yet it is simpler in design, lighter and more efficient, and is also designed for very high endurance. Its current record of 43,000 hours is the equivalent of nearly five years of continuous operation while consuming only 770 kg (1697.5 lbs) of xenon propellant.

This engine will make the unmanned exploration of the asteroid belt extremely easy and practical.

Dawn has begun its slow departure from Vesta in anticipation of its journey to the solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

Dawn has begun its slow departure from Vesta in anticipation of its journey to the solar system’s largest asteroid, Ceres.

The departure was actually announced two weeks ago, but since this is a very slow process it isn’t like we have missed anything. Dawn’s ion engines are very efficient, but they work at a very leisurely pace. It will take a month for the engine’s thrusters to push Dawn out of its orbit around Vesta.