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New ion engine could propel spacecraft to Titan


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An ion engine several times more powerful than any previously flown is being tested by NASA. It could propel a spacecraft all the way to Saturn's moon Titan.

Ion engines operate by removing electrons from atoms of a gas – usually xenon – and then accelerating the resulting ions through an electric field. The ions are shot out the back of the engine to create thrust.

The engines provide much less thrust at any given time than do rockets. But they are much more fuel efficient, providing a steady source of propulsion that could ideally be used to take spacecraft to the outer solar system.

NASA tried out ion engines on its Deep Space 1 mission, which launched in 1998 and visited an asteroid and a comet at a distance of 203 million kilometres from the Sun. But the so-called NSTAR engines used on that mission were not powerful enough for more distant excursions.

A new engine called NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) can generate 2.5 times as much thrust as the NSTAR engine and would enable more ambitious missions. The engine was built by Aerojet, an aerospace company based in Sacramento, California, US.

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Source: New Scientist

Full article: http://tinyurl.com/zrnnz

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