The X3 Ion Thruster Is Here, This Is How It’ll Get Us to Mars
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The X3 Ion Thruster Is Here, This Is How It’ll Get Us to Mars

December 16, 2019

Alec Gallimore: “What you’re seeing is this
energetic blue-greenish plasma that comes out of the thruster. It really looks like science fiction. In the end, we’re supplying electricity through
a wire and an inert gas and we turn it into this beautiful plasma that’s moving at tremendous
velocities that’s providing thrust that may one day send people to Mars.” Chemical rockets are the workhorses of the
space age, and they’ve had a pretty standard formula for the past 60 years. Get millions of pounds of liquid or solid
fuel into a rocket, light it on fire with an oxidizer, and then the speed of the propellant
shooting out the back gives the rocket enough thrust, or kick, to get into space. This works great for escaping Earth’s gravity. But if we want to get to Mars, chemical rockets
have hit their their performance limit. We need new propulsion systems that can rapidly
shoot a spacecraft across interplanetary distances, while using less propellant at the same time. That’s where the X3 comes in. As part of NASA’s NextStep program, the
X3 is an entirely new space engine that’s all electric. Alec Gallimore: “Electro-propulsion devices
have the equivalent of 10 times the propellant efficiency of a chemical system. To give you an example, a chemical rocket
tops out at around 40,000 mph. An electric system can go over 100,000 mph
and in fact, NASA is working on a project to design one that can actually achieve a
velocity of 500,000 mph. And at that speed you cover a distance between
the Earth and the Moon in about 30 minutes.” Here at the University of Michigan’s Plasmadynamics
and Electric Propulsion lab, engineers and students are working on the X3, a type of
electric propulsion design called a Hall thruster. Alec Gallimore: “Hall effect thrusters are
really a kind of a very ingenious propulsion system. We take a propellant, in some cases an inert
gas like xenon. We put a huge amount of energy into it, creates
a high temperature plasma, charged particles of electrons and ions, and then we can use
electromagnetic fields to shoot out the plasma at very high speeds. So they’re very simple in design, complex
though in operations and very, very efficient.” Hall thrusters aren’t just a thing of the
future. There are actually hundreds of satellites
above you right now using electric propulsion to stay in position. But this technology hasn’t been used for
manned missions yet, because the amount of thrust they’re capable of generating is
just too low, which means slower acceleration and a longer trip to Mars. So, we need more thrust. Ben Jorns: “Traditional Hall thrusters that
work in space operate between one and six kilowatts. Now the X-3 comes in and trying to scale Hall
effect thruster technology, into a new power operator machine. So going from six kilowatts to 100 or 200
kilowatts. And the advantage of that is if you go to
higher power, you can generate higher thrust. And therefore have higher acceleration. Instead of using one channel, which a traditional
hall thruster has three channels, so you take all those engineering requirements and you
multiply it by a factor of three.” For these engines to be used in space one
day, testing is critical, and these labs are uniquely equipped for the challenge. Alec Gallimore: “Sitting behind me is what’s
called ‘The Large Vacuum Test Facility’ the LVTF. It has one of the highest pumping speeds in
the world, which means it’s able to have a very low pressure while it’s operating a large
flow rate. And we use it to simulate space. We have 19 cryogenic pumps, that remove all
the air and all the gasses from the chamber so we can have a more realistic environment
to test these thrusters. Students run experimental campaigns in the
LVTF. One student might be trying to analyze the
life of a thruster. Another person might be trying to understand
how the electrons from the cathode make their way to the channel. A successful test is often when you find something
unexpected that ultimately leads you to having a better understanding of the device you’re
testing. And that happens quite a bit.” But the X3 is too powerful for even the LVTF,
and at this point, only NASA’s Glenn Research facility can handle its testing at full capacity. Alec Gallimore: “A typical thruster may
weigh 10 pounds, this thing weighs 500 pounds. So just designing and building all the components
of this mega-scale thruster was a challenge that we took on. Last year was a blockbuster year for the X3. It set records for Hall thrusters for the
highest power level at over 100 kilowatts of power. The highest level of thrust and actually the
highest amount of current being passed through any type of Hall current thruster.” These engineering achievements are key, because
electric propulsion is going to be a central part of our future in space. Alec Gallimore: “NASA is working on developing
a sort of a 20 year game plan. The idea is that we’ve been in the International
Space Station now for more than a decade and that has been a great. But the next step would be something like
a space station around the Moon. We would have an outpost around lunar orbit
to test new technologies that would be needed to have humans live in space. Hall thrusters are playing a really important
role in this…it’s baseline is to have a bank of four Hall effect thrusters around
because they want to be able to move around this space station and actually demonstrate
the ability to use electric propulsion of this kind with a human attended spacecraft.” The X3 is likely two incarnations away from
being flight ready, but the work happening here is all about demonstrating new principles
for how to design electro-propulsion engines. Ultimately, future space travel will use a
combination of chemical and electric propulsion to travel through space. And it’s projects like the X3 that make
a future mission to Mars even more possible. For more science documentaries, check out
this one right here, don’t forget to subscribe and keep coming back to Seeker for more videos.

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  1. The X3 is a collaboration among NASA, Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Michigan, and Aerojet Rocketdyne as part of NASA's NextSTEP program. Learn more about the initiative here: and here!

  2. I think the Hall effect team needs to tell the reactor team how many KW's your engines are going to need. They are working on a 10 to 40 kw scale which looks to be a bit light.

  3. Current rocket technology is too slow for planetary exploration. Humans must develop a propulsion system which is faster than chemical rocket. Ion propulsion or nuclear propulsion is the future.

  4. Whats on mars that we need to go there. A need metal. It must be something of value i believe we should fix our planet before discovering whats on other ones. But real quick not to be on a rat but people talk about climate change well why do you think that is let's see you chop down a few million Acres of trees to build the neighbourhood the city a new car lot Amal shopping centers more subdivisions. So do trees give us oxygen so now we have less oxygen and sure will people on the road more people on the planet so we could stop probably using coal there is plenty of ideas to create free energy not free as in Money free but free as in pollution free

  5. Thanks! This is certainly exciting news. I think that ultimately – unless or until we develop small fusion units (a far-off prospect at best) – we need the right type of thrust for the right purpose. For long-distance manned spaceflight, I truly feel we need hybrid drive systems, able to use different fuels, & able to produce different levels – as well as different types – of thrust. I'd love to have a Mr. Fusion, like in Back to the Future! But failing that, we need both hybrid engines, and hybrid power generation (for on-site power, such as on the Moon or Mars.) As yet, I haven't seen any such thing – ever. This is disappointing, as I know we're capable of such a feat. We need to give astronauts the best – & most flexible – tools for the job of exploring space & leading the way in colonization! Whether that's 3D printers that can print anything from tools & replacement parts, to shelters, to human organs, to more 3D printers, or spaceships that can run on solid or liquid rocket power, or in ion thruster mode, photonic propulsion, etc. I believe we can do that. Thanks again. ????? ?????.

  6. Same shit different decade. Same promises same ideas same everything and no feasible results. Put this in the hands of billionaires and I guarantee we are colonizing the solar system in ten years, keep the government like nasa involved and we will continue to get the same shit for decades.

  7. The truth is we can't tolerate extended stays in outer space! Do the research, our bodies tolerate anti-gravity, extream low pressure, the same for high pressure, as in deep-sea diving it is very destructive to us physically!

  8. I was thinking about why we dont use electricity instead of fuel powered thrusters, hopefully people can figure our electric propulsion living on mars would be cuu or even having it where regular people could see space

  9. 1:30 God, I hate it when they lie like this. Yes, full speed earth -moon distance, in reality it doesn't have enough thrust to break away from earth atmosphere. Why are you guys such fu*king liars

  10. I thought Ion engines were supposed to use highly radioactive gas put under pressure as fuel like a TIE fighter, not electricity. This doesn't sound like a real Ion engine.

  11. This technology is yaers behind it's potential. But It's not far from electrogravitic propulsion. you need a more disc shaped vihecle and inner components to get that effect.

    But if you can cancel out mass you can travel to mars in nano secounds. The documents of this exist. But are ridiculed and cencored in mainstream science. Because some con artists want it that way. Truly dishonoring isn't it?

  12. We mite go 500000 mph, but we must slow down when we get there. The moon has no atmosphere to use for slowing down, but Mars has an atmosphere to slow down.

  13. Along with solar power they should include a passive battery recharge system that uses magnetic fields the way we recharge wireless batteries now.

    The further out we go the less effective solar recharge will be, using another source, maybe even nuclear combination.

  14. If you would like to see an ion thruster that lifts itself and its complete power supply from the ground! Please click on the channel icon to the left to see flight footage.

  15. Seeker woman, oxidizers do not ignite the engine bell, just because you heard that word somewhere doesn’t mean you should spread false info. The real purpose of oxidizers are:
    -to make hydrogen(2) [liquid]into a gas/vapor for combustion to actually happen
    -in space “oxidizers’’ have one purpose which is to feed oxygen to the engine bell for space cannot support combustion

  16. there is a malfunction in any gay person, and this black guy is really gay. That means something wrong needs to be handled first. Before they can be trusted to do an important job.

  17. Better than immersing hot shit in water to make steam like cavemen I guess. Still seem pretty short sighted to not use any form of vortex, torodial, or torsion, effects with your plasma expulsion though. You really just heat that shit up and let it escape? Yeesh, no wonder we still are a bunch of poo flinging tribes, I mean nations.

  18. Ion trusters is a waste. Too much energy, low trust. There are less hi tech more effective ways. Only think harder and don't be dogmatic

  19. Why not refurbished the International Space Station and actually send it to Mars? Build another one here we already have one in space we don't have to get it off the ground

  20. It really looks like science fiction he says why? Because it is absolute fiction. I feel for the sheep that were trying to wake up this is going to sleep them again they're too weak minded they think these persons who are actually actors are building things but in reality they can't even change the oil in their car.

  21. I heard that one of the existing ion drives has the force which is similar to a 1 A4 page!! So this new system then has a similar force of just 30? So if we're talking about the moon.. let's stick with chemical propulsion because this new system weeks to get it up to speed

  22. This is important work to speed up long distance travel, however this video does not present the functionality in a very honest way. Particularly the explanation at 1:05 is quite a misleading explanation.

  23. Seems like they could use a chemical that expands like some I've seen do like foam that grows like crazy .of course not foam but something that expanded like this ion just chemical.

  24. We are the middle children of history. We have no great war; no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression – is our lives.

  25. Watching a scientific context video on youtube. Hearing them speaking about miles and pounds. Quit watching and remember to avoid the channel.

  26. Why rely on low efficiency ion propulsion? when you can modify the technology a bit by adding dielectric materials with very high dielectric constant like barium titanate or calcium copper titanate, use millions of volts with very high frequency pulsed DC or AC tuned to 1/4 wavelength so you can use aether instead for propulsion. Aether thruster built correctly will take astronauts to Mars in only in few days or few weeks. Aether is a fifth platonic solid entire physical universe is submerged in as there is no such thing as empty space. Aether propulsion is far more efficient than ion propulsion.

  27. Would elongating the engine have any effect? Like make the engine as long as a rocket booster? Or 3D print one where it siphons thrust like an enclosed ionic ramjet? Or is that a daydream?

  28. Ion engines will never be on a manned vessel. Sure they are capable of high speeds, but it would take DECADES to achieve that speed. What good is a 10,000isp rocket engine that only produces .05kg of thrust? Fine for robotic probes, not so good for people who have lifespans to consider. Nuclear thermal rocket engines are the true ticket to Mars.

  29. Please click on the channel icon to the left, to see 7 prototype ion thrusters that can lift their power supplies from the ground. Please notice that they are fully verified to work!

  30. It may achieve a higher orbital velocity but it takes damn near 30x as long to get there, Sure the ISP is amazing but the thrust is only good for small space probes, I cant see these taking humans anywhere as they would take waaaaaaay to long.

  31. Interesting stuff. And probably the way things will go for true interplanetary travel. Especially in the area of cargo transport and the like. I can envision a "conveyor belt" type of loop between Earth, Moon, Mars, etc., with continuous streams of transport vessels in an endless loop.

    But one question. And my apologies if I missed it.

    The video shows all kinds of nice test rigging. What's the power source behind the Hall thruster? Some of the documents state into the multi-megawatts being used? Something has to be providing the 200 to 400 kW's of electricity (for these "initial" Hall thrusters) to make this thing go? Especially if it's to go further than a duck fart.

    So what's it to be? Something tells me solar panels won't suffice. Soooo…..some form of nuke? Obviously anything chemical would be self-defeating….

    American Net'Zen

  32. Don't bother giving us the important details, Seeker. You know, like what the thrust is rated at. And did you guys seriously just gloss over the whole slowing-down part?

  33. Start testing it in real time cause I've the knowledge that this isn't gonna work the China and India have a much more advanced way

  34. Many ppl bashing about ion engines, but to me this is the future. Chemical rockets have only brought us so far. From the V2 engine 70 years ago to todays modern engines e.g. Rs25 or raptor, merlin, etc. there was really only an efficiency improvement of 50 to 100% and we have arguably hit its physical limits. Ion throws in a factor of 10 which is huge. This could bring us our whole solar system into reach. And here I come back to the critics. We need to work on this technology and over the next decades we will have breakthroughs in electricity storage and fusion power that could be paired to scale up these engines. And then we will be comfortably and routinely sending people to the moons of saturn and beyond.

  35. This brings Elon to mind, maby he can get in on this research some how, since he is at the forefront of electric vehicles an electric truster for space craft should interest him .

  36. What if they made smaller ones for cars so they could float.
    Like half that just take the 2x or 4x energy you’d have your 2024 space car theres a future for it

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