The X3 Ion Thruster: Will It Propel Humans to Mars?

The X3 Ion Thruster: Will It Propel Humans to Mars?

A few months ago NASA has tested the X3 ion thruster and it was a success. The powerful ion thruster could be a key component of next propulsion systems, and it’s fit for future missions to Mars.

There’s some great and not so great news, though. The great news is that the X3 is a safe thruster and it will consume less fuel, because the propellant gets accelerated by electric and magnetic fields. But the bad news is that it cannot offer a high thrust. However, engineers are doing their best to solve this issue.

The X3 ion thruster measures 31.5 inches in diameter and weighs almost 507 lbs. It is a three-channel nested thruster and will operate at up to 200 kW. The X3 has been developed by: NASA, the University of Michigan and the U.S. Air Force, funded through NASA’s NextSTEP.

Last year’s tests that took place in July and August showed the researches great performance. Tests resulted in a new record: from 3.3 newtons of force to 5.4 newtons – thus, the current record got doubled – from 112 amperes to 250 amperes, running at a higher power: from 98 kW to 102 kW.

Scott Hall, with the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory at U-M, stated that their test was a success. They not only saw that the thruster was performing well at full power, but it also allowed them to see what other issues they had to fix, which he said that they ‘were all minor and easy to fix, but they could have been problematic if we found them during our 100-hour attempt’.

‘We wanted to shake everything down—the thruster, the auxiliary equipment, and the vacuum facility’, Hall said. This way, the 100-hour run test would be safer.

The Upcoming 100-hour Test

We’re getting close to the 100-hour test, which has been planned for this spring. The X3 thruster will have to be integrated with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s power processing system.

The main question is: would X3 be capable to power manned missions to Mars in the future? It could do it if the propulsion system will be operating at least 200kW.

Scientists believe that the X3 will be a critical component to future crewed missions to Mars. Just add a few X3s and it could carry humans to Mars or even deep into space. Hall even suggested that the thrusters could be used to go ‘on deep-space missions, although you probably need nuclear power for those since solar power drops off so quickly’.

Asheley Rice

I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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