X3 ion thruster achieves record 102 kilowatts of power and 5.4 newtons of thrust

The X3 thruster was designed by researchers at the University of Michigan in cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force. It is 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

The maximum velocity that can be achieved by a chemical rocket is about 5 kilometers per second, a Hall thruster could get a craft up to 40 kilometers per second.

It has ten times the ISP (fuel efficiency for space) of a chemical rocket.

Next year, the team will run an even bigger test, which aims to prove that the thruster can operate at full power for 100 hours. Gallimore said the engineers are also designing a special magnetic shielding system that would keep the plasma away from the walls of the thruster to prevent damage and enable the thruster to operate reliably for even longer periods of time. Gallimore said that without the shielding a flight version X3 would probably start experiencing problems after several thousand hours of operations. A magnetically-shielded version could run for several years at full power

In 2016, NASA awarded $6.5 million over the next three years to Aerojet Rocketdyne for the development of the ion propulsion system, dubbed the XR-100. The team at University of Michigan received $1 million of the award for work on the thruster.

The X3 design power is 200 kilowatts.

22 thoughts on “X3 ion thruster achieves record 102 kilowatts of power and 5.4 newtons of thrust”

  1. The Saturn 5 F1 engine developed 6,770,000 Newtons. There were five of them on the first stage.

    Small steps.

  2. allowing cassini probe to incinerate was a foolish and irresponsible mistake. provision cot someuld have been made to recover the craft at some future time and return it to the earth for recycling. or, extraterestrial alien could have been summoned to retrieve the craft and return it to the earth for recycling. any space project which involves a use and throw away policy of craft hardware constitutes non sense, not science. by allowing cassini probe to plunge into saturn more than two tons of precious metal were lost to the abyss forever.

  3. This business of thrust confuses me. 5 Newtons is half a g is it not? But what sort of mass can be propelled at 5 Newtons?

    • 5 Newtons accelerates 1 kg at 5 m/s^2. 1 g is 9.8 m/s^2.
      The mass of the spacecraft will generally be a lot more than 1 kg, so the acceleration from 5 Newtons will be much less than half a g.

    • F=MA
      5n=MA Assume Mass is 1000kg for a satellite with engine then
      5n/1000kg = .005m/sec^2

      Velocity = a*t or .005m/sec^2*time or 24 hours * 60 min * 60sec -> .005*3600*24= 432m/sec provided the satellite is weightless at time 0.

    • I think it does. I still can’t figure out how to put a picture up for an avatar. Seems like I have to sign in everytime I post a comment, which is difficult with a phone

  4. I know a force of five and a half Newtons doesn’t sound like much, but in the vacuum of space an object can seriously get up and move.

  5. Doh. It woudl take a long time. “In short, at a maximum velocity of 56,000 km/h, (it) would take over 81,000 years to traverse the 4.24 light years between Earth and Proxima Centauri.”

  6. Aren’t chemical Rockets capable of amore than 5 km/s?
    Elon musk has said falcon 9 first stage to do ssto.

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