July 21, 2003
An ion thruster is removed from a vacuum chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., its job done following almost five years of testing. Engineers John Anderson and Keith Goodfellow, from left, are part of JPL's Advanced Propulsion Technology Group. The thruster, a spare engine from NASA's Deep Space 1 mission, ran for a record 30,352 hours, giving researchers the ability to observe its performance and wear at different power levels throughout the test. This information will be vital to future missions that use ion propulsion.
Ion propulsion systems can be very lightweight, running on just a few grams of xenon gas a day. This fuel efficiency can lower launch vehicle costs. Xenon is the same gas that is found in photo flash bulbs. The very successful Deep Space 1 mission featured the first use of an ion engine as the primary means of propulsion on a NASA spacecraft.
NASA's next-generation ion propulsion efforts are led by the In-Space Propulsion Program, managed by the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., and implemented by the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.. The program seeks to develop advanced propulsion technologies that will help near and mid-term NASA science missions by significantly reducing cost, mass or travel times. JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA.