NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT)

Discussion in 'General Science' started by Heavydoody, Apr 14, 2011.

  1. Heavydoody

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jul 31, 2009
    I get news releases from Glenn Research Center via email and the following was copied and pasted (I couldn't find the release on their site yet). Its pretty relevant to a couple of threads on here, so I gave it its own, enjoy :D

    April 14, 2011

    Lori J. Rachul
    Media Relations Office

    Katherine K. Martin
    Media Relations Office

    RELEASE: 11-020


    CLEVELAND -- A small robotic surveyor arrives to explore a near-Earth
    asteroid. Another robotic spacecraft is returning to Earth with a
    pristine comet surface sample. Meanwhile, a robotic explorer is
    approaching Uranus, carrying scientific instruments that will allow
    us to learn more about our solar system. What do all these mission
    concepts have in common?

    These scenarios, analyzed and recommended by the planetary science
    community in its recent study "Visons and Voyages for Planetary
    Science in the Decade 2013-2022," all may use the exceptional
    performance and lifetime capability of an advanced ion engine
    developed by NASA's Glenn Research Center.

    The ion engine, NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT), is the next
    generation of the ion engine now propelling the Dawn spacecraft to
    asteroids Vesta and Ceres.

    In its continuing effort to improve the NEXT ion engine, NASA recently
    completed a series of tests that mimic the requirements of a wide
    range of ambitious missions. An engine lifetime demonstration,
    initiated in June, 2005, recently achieved two milestones in electric
    propulsion testing.

    Surpassing the longest operating duration of previous ion engines by
    5,000 hours, NEXT has operated for more than 35,500 hours, more than
    four years of cumulative time. In addition, over 600 kilograms of
    xenon propellant have been expended, twice as much as originally
    required. These two measures are essential to accomplishing
    long-duration scientific space exploration missions.

    Long lifetime allows the mission designer to build a simpler ion
    propulsion system by reducing the number of engines required, while
    providing more science payload capability and higher reliability.

    Engineers at Glenn predict that the engine will continue to operate
    for at least two more years, further extending the capability of the
    ion propulsion system and providing more mission opportunities. "The
    engineers at Glenn and Aerojet have done an incredible job in
    designing out the lifetime limitations of prior generations of ion
    engines," said Michael J. Patterson, NEXT principal investigator and
    senior propulsion technologist at Glenn. "A new standard in electric
    propulsion lifetime has been set."

    While traditionally-used chemical propulsion typically performs
    accelerating burns for several minutes, then coasts, the ion engine
    operates continuously for several years, providing constant
    acceleration to the spacecraft. By providing a small, constant thrust
    over long periods of time, the engine accelerates spacecraft to
    thousands of kilometers per hour, while using less than a tenth of
    the propellant of a conventional, chemical rocket. This efficiency
    will allow spacecraft to reach more distant and difficult scientific
    targets throughout the solar system. For that reason, demonstration
    of long duration operations is critical to the technology validation.

    The NEXT project is a joint technology and engineering development
    program led by Glenn to develop a next generation electric propulsion
    system, including power processing, propellant management and other
    components. The Aerojet Corporation, Redmond, Wash., has successfully
    advanced the Glenn NEXT engine technology concept to a flight-ready
    design. Other members of the NEXT team include NASA's Jet Propulsion
    Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and L-3 Communications Electron
    Technologies, Torrance, Calif.

    The NEXT project was competitively selected under the In-Space
    Propulsion Technology Program, managed by NASA's Science Mission
    Directorate in Washington, D.C. and implemented by Glenn.

    For more information about NEXT, visit:

    For more information about Glenn, visit:


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  2. beenthere

    Retired Moderator

    Apr 20, 2004
  3. Heavydoody

    Thread Starter Active Member

    Jul 31, 2009
    I always wondered how nuclear power might be applied to space exploration, but had never bothered to look into it. This ion engine is pretty amazing. They also had some stuff about High Power Electric Propulsion (also scrapped) on the Glenn website. I have wanted to look into the physics of space travel, but never had the foundation. Now that I am a bit more comfortable with math I plan on studying this stuff as a hobby. I took thermodynamics this semester for that very reason (its not needed for my degree).
  4. Wendy


    Mar 24, 2008
    I've always like the Orion engine. You need uber clean nukes for it though. Maybe if we can get fusion to work on demand. Someday...

    Antimatter might work well too.
  5. magnet18

    Senior Member

    Dec 22, 2010
    But then you'll have enough energy to create a warp-field and cheat the rules of space-time and go faster than light...

    If none of my ancestors join starfleet I will become disappoint.