See the Possible: NASA's world-record rocket

11:11 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Cleveland has made it into the record books.

NASA Glenn Research Center has developed a record-breaking rocket by seeing the possible in deep space exploration, and by proving things built in Cleveland can last a long, long time.

An ION-powered thruster is being tested in a vacuum chamber at a NASA Glenn lab. The rocket has been running for more than 5 and a half years without a problem, setting a world record in propulsion testing.

Compare that to your car, which may not make it through the week without stoping at the gas station or even the garage.

"On this ION thruster, you can't do that in space. Once we launch it into deep space, we can't go out there and go fix it or bring it back to get it fixed. So it has to run autonomously for an extended period on time" said Mike Patterson, Senior Technologist In-Space Propulsion at NASA Glenn.

We are not going to be zipping about the galaxy like they do in Star Trek with this rocket. Think of it more like a pickup truck than a race car.

"So even though it produces very low thrust, we thrust over a very long period of time. And near the end, we end up with a terminal velocity, that's a space craft velocity higher then you would with a chemical propulsion system" said Patterson.

All past spacecrafts burned chemical fuels for power. This new ION thruster is 10 time more efficient, burning less propellant, making it a good choice for deep-space missions.

"The fact that we have taken this exotic propulsion technology and run it for such a year duration, well in excess of many of the mission applications. It enhances the confidence the end user has in the technology" said Patterson.

The new ION thruster has not been selected for any deep-space mission yet. But engineers at NASA Glenn are confident it will work great when it is.


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