…a Hall thruster — a system that propels spacecraft by accelerating a stream of electrically charged atoms, known as ions. In the recent demonstration conducted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, the X3 broke records for the maximum power output, thrust and operating current achieved by a Hall thruster to date, according to the research team at the University of Michigan and representatives from NASA.

* X3 can operate at over 100 kW of power
* operated at a huge range of power from 5 kW to 102 kW, with electrical current of up to 260 amperes.
* It generated 5.4 Newtons of thrust, which is the highest level of thrust achieved by any plasma thruster to date. The previous record was 3.3 Newtons

This is by no means a warp engine or some other form of FTL drive, which is frankly handwavium given our current understanding of physics, but this is an important step.

Not only that, this illustrates one of the things I’ve been saying for a long time: to invent something new is genius, making it work is engineering. You can expect to see a Hall drive on SpaceX’s Mars rocket, or at least the expedition to Titan.

A bit of perspective: 102 kW is between seven and eight times what my giant generator puts out at peak power, so we’re not talking about a huge amount of oomph. Just constant acceleration, which makes the Hall drive especially suitable for long-distance flights.

5 Responses to “Advancements”

  1. Dan says:

    While I can’t find the exact amount of fuel an Arleigh Burke class destroyer carries it’s reported that it can burn 1000 gallons an hour. The ship itself has a listed range of about 4400 nautical miles. The combined power output at the propellers is listed as a maximum of about 80KW from 4 GE gas turbines . So this new ion drive would require 5 of these gas turbines burning in excess of 1000 gallons of fuel an hour to produce the stated 100Kw of power. Not going to be able to carry enough fuel of any kind to go far in space. The ONLY power source that might work would be a decent size reactor. The engineering to run one of those in space without a source of coolant is going to be iffy at best. It’s going to be a long time before we are coasting around the solar system with this.

  2. Peter says:

    Citing a ship is a bit off: part of the fuel consumption on a destroyer is both friction and drag, neither of which is a significant factor in space. The ion drive does not have to be all that powerful, in fact, so long as the thrust is just sufficient to overcome the mass of the spacecraft, a smaller/weaker drive, which will use less fuel, would be preferred.

    Thanks for your comment, Dan.

  3. Dan says:

    Yes…overcoming drag is a huge part of it that is absent in space. But the distances involved are greater by several orders of magnitude. As stated..we are NOT going ANYWHERE of importance using an Ion Drive till we solve some very tough issues regarding use of nuclear materials as a power source. They are ok for unmanned craft but extremely dangerous for occupied craft.

  4. Jeffersonian says:

    Always with the negative waves, Moriarty.

    Particularly around 12 minutes.

    SpaceX is advancing farther, faster, than any tax-eating government bureaucracy ever could.