Ion Engine Under Consideration for Jupiter Mission Passes Test:
"Unlike the short, high-thrust burns of most chemical rocket engines that use solid or liquid fuels, the ion engine emits only a faint blue glow of electrically charged atoms of xenon - the same gas found in photo flash tubes and in many lighthouse bulbs. The thrust from the engine is as gentle as the force exerted by a sheet of paper held in the palm of your hand. Over the long haul though, the engine can deliver 20 times as much thrust per kilogram of fuel than traditional rockets.
Key to the ion technology is its high exhaust velocity. The ion engine can run on a few hundred grams of propellant per day, making it lightweight. Less weight means less cost to launch, yet an ion-propelled spacecraft can go much faster and farther than any other spacecraft.
'This test, in combination with the recent test of the High Power Electric Propulsion ion engine at NASA's Glenn Research Center, is another example of the progress we are making in developing the technologies needed to support flagship space exploration missions throughout the solar system and beyond,' said Alan Newhouse, director, Project Prometheus. 'We have challenged our team with difficult performance goals and they are demonstrating their ability to be creative in overcoming technical challenges.'
NASA's Project Prometheus is making strategic investments in space nuclear fission power and electric propulsion technologies that would enable a new class of missions to the outer Solar System, with capabilities far beyond those possible with current power and propulsion systems. The first such mission under study, the Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter would launch in the next decade and provide NASA significantly improved scientific and telecommunications capabilities and mission design options. Instead of generating only hundreds of watts of electricity like the Cassini or Galileo missions, which used radioisotope thermoelectric generators, the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter could have up to tens of thousands of watts of power, increasing the potential science return many times over."