Developed by the University of Michigan and the Air ForceUS new X3 ion engine for NASA aerospace agency set a new record for efficiency. Against the background of this news, some experts had their eyes lit up, and all of them as one suggest that such technology will one day be used to deliver people to Mars.
X3 engine refers to the so-called typeHall accelerators. To create a motor impulse, this setup creates a directed ion flow. The plasma generated inside the special chamber, which is ejected outside the ship, according to NASA, will give the spacecraft a higher level of acceleration compared to more traditional chemical rocket engines.
The most efficient chemical rocket engines(RHD) allow you to accelerate the spacecraft to a speed of about 5 kilometers per second, in turn, the Hall accelerator is able to give acceleration to 40 kilometers per second. Such efficiency will be extremely useful for potentially long space flights, such as, for example, to Mars. And according to the people involved in the project of the ion engine, thanks to this technology, over the next 20 years we will be able to open the way to manned flights to the Red Planet.
It is believed that ion engines can bemuch more efficient than conventional RRLs, as well as more economical, since they require the use of less fuel to transport a similar number of crew members and equipment over long distances. As the project manager for the development of an ion engine Alec Gallimore told Space.com, ion acceleration can provide up to 10 times greater distance coverage when using the same amount of fuel with the engine.
Of course, in addition to ion engines, there areother types of promising technologies, the further development of which can bring mankind to a new round of conquered space distances. Perhaps the most important drawback of the same traditional RHDs is the need to deliver a huge amount of chemical fuel to space, which, of course, increases the total mass of the spacecraft. Extra mass requires extra fuel, extra fuel increases mass, and so on. There is a variant of a direct-flow accelerator Bussard, which is essentially a thermonuclear rocket engine that uses the hydrogen of outer space as fuel. In theory, an engine can accelerate almost to the speed of light, but its extremely low efficiency, due to the particular design of the spacecraft, still leaves the project with a very big question. But what about the electromagnetic motor that everyone has heard lately? Around him now there are more questions than answers. And until we figure out how he is able to work at all, and scientists really have no idea how, then there is no hope for the best.
Science Fiction Fans Probably Enthusiasticwould suggest using an idea that would allow space travel faster than the speed of light - warp. However, the general theory of relativity tells us that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. Nevertheless, if we find a way to somehow compress and expand the fabric of space-time in front and behind us, then in theory we can actually move faster than the speed of light. But while modern science is in solidarity with the fact that we have not even come close to such technologies.
Back to the ion engines. Recent tests of the X3 accelerator have shown that the installation is capable of operating at a power of more than 100 kW and generate 5.4 newtons of force, which at the moment has become the highest indicator of efficiency for any ion plasma engine. He also broke the record for power output and operating current ratings. This success led some to speculate that technology would be used in the next 20 years to transport people to Mars. But is everything so wonderful? Perhaps only partly.
Compared to the same HRE, ion enginesable to create very little traction. In other words, in order to achieve the same speed indicator as a chemical rocket engine demonstrates, an ionic one needs to work much longer. This, in turn, does not allow the use of ion engines, for example, as starting engines, when launching a rocket from the Earth.
Engineers are trying to solve theseproblems with the new X3 ion engine, where instead of one channel for the emission of accelerating plasma, it is proposed to use several at once. The current objective of the project is to develop both a sufficiently powerful and compact engine. The fact is that the initial prototype turned out to be very overall. While most of the created Hall accelerators can be manually moved around the laboratory, the X3 has to be moved with a small crane.
In 2018, engineers are going to hold a newa series of tests and ultimately look at the operation of the engine, which will operate for 100 hours without interruption. Engineers are also developing a shielding system that will protect the walls of the accelerator from the effects of hot plasma, which will allow the engine to work much longer, possibly even for several years.