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posted by martyb on Monday November 22, @10:54AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the AXE:-Advancing-Xenon-Emitters dept.

Not Science Fiction: Electric Propulsion Comes of Age With Psyche Mission to an Asteroid:

Psyche's Hall thrusters will be the first to be used beyond lunar orbit, demonstrating that they could play a role in supporting future missions to deep space. The spacecraft is set to launch in August 2022 and its super-efficient mode of propulsion uses solar arrays to capture sunlight that is converted into electricity to power the spacecraft's thrusters. The thrusters work by turning xenon gas, a neutral gas used in car headlights and plasma TVs, into xenon ions. As the xenon ions are accelerated out of the thruster, they create the thrust that will propel the spacecraft.

Belters rejoice.


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  • (Score: 4, Touché) by takyon on Monday November 22, @12:23PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday November 22, @12:23PM (#1198558) Journal

    Because then I would say it came of age with the Dawn mission [wikipedia.org] to Vesta and Ceres.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @01:00PM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @01:00PM (#1198560)

    "super efficient" huh? let's not forget "team stickler" and all the "dark energy" that was used to filter xenon from the atmosphere.
    this energy was most probably not harvested by the ship builders to power the "athmospheric destillery"...
    so alot more energy is " dark" inside the pure xenon gas which ofc is also expelled, heyya?

    maybe someone more familiar with "athmospheric distillation" engineering can give us a kwh ballpark for 1kg of 99% pure xenon gas...
    tho i heard whispers of it occuring above normal concentrations in nuke reactors?

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by PiMuNu on Monday November 22, @05:19PM

      by PiMuNu (3823) on Monday November 22, @05:19PM (#1198607)

      The point is that you save a significant amount of rocket fuel to get the xenon gas bottle into space compared to the large mass of conventional rocket fuel and engines. Even if Xenon is expensive to harvest on earth, it is considerably cheaper than constructing and fuelling such a rocket.

      If you are considering the full costing of the xenon, including harvesting on earth, you should compare against the full costing of the rocket fuel, including launch costs.

    • (Score: 2) by PinkyGigglebrain on Monday November 22, @07:46PM

      by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Monday November 22, @07:46PM (#1198646)

      Another source of Xenon is from nuclear fission, most of the isotopes formed are very short lived and would settle down into something usable as fuel pretty fast. Yet another reason to build more nuclear power plants.

      Now that I think about it would a fission reactor that was small enough to power one of these engines on a probe also produce enough Xenon to use as fuel? Probably not but it would be fun if it did

      --
      "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @04:05PM (5 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @04:05PM (#1198589)

    The Deep Space 1 probe was the first to use use ion propulsion
    Then again in 2005-ish with the Dawn space craft.
    Is this different?

    Or again, is this yet another one of those "new inventions/new discoveries" of 2021 that is only new if you intentionally ignore history?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @05:36PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 22, @05:36PM (#1198611)

      It's Millennial science! Since I've never heard of it, it must be new!!

      I liked that too: "first to be used beyond lunar orbit" I wasn't aware that our thruster technologies were thought to be limited by the Earth's gravity well.

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Monday November 22, @06:43PM (3 children)

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Monday November 22, @06:43PM (#1198628) Homepage Journal

      In my fiction, the cargo craft to Mars all use ion propulsion, powered by fusion reactors.

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      • (Score: 2) by PinkyGigglebrain on Monday November 22, @07:55PM (2 children)

        by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Monday November 22, @07:55PM (#1198654)

        just curious, do you use the classic magnetic confinement or one of the less well known fusion concepts like muon catalyzed, magnetic mono poles, or maybe the really exotic LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions)?

        Also, do you have any of your works posted anywhere? I'm always looking for good stories to read and you've piqued my curiosity :)

        --
        "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by DannyB on Monday November 22, @04:21PM (2 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday November 22, @04:21PM (#1198591) Journal

    From Nature:
    In-orbit demonstration of an iodine electric propulsion system [nature.com]

    [ . . . . ] At present, xenon is used almost exclusively as an ionizable propellant for space propulsion2,3,4,5. However, xenon is rare, it must be stored under high pressure and commercial production is expensive7,8,9. Here we demonstrate a propulsion system that uses iodine propellant and we present in-orbit results of this new technology.

    Iodine powers low-cost engines for satellites [nature.com]

    Solid iodine transforms directly into gas when heated — a property that has been used to create cheap, compact engines that could make large networks of small satellites commercially viable.

    (almost successfully resisted temptation to make adolescent joke about gas discharges)

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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by PinkyGigglebrain on Monday November 22, @07:36PM (2 children)

    by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Monday November 22, @07:36PM (#1198641)

    Psyche's Hall thrusters will be the first to be used beyond lunar orbit,

    Might be the first time that specific type of ion engine from that company is used beyond Luna's orbit but the Deep Space 1 [wikipedia.org] mission launched in 1998 proved Ion engines work quite well beyond Luna's orbit. Maybe the PR department at Psyche was hoping everyone had forgotten about DS1.

    Also couldn't help but notice how they threw in Solar as a buzz word. It works great for powering a space craft in the inner Solar system but once you try to go past the asteroid belt where an Ion engine could really show it's stuff Solar energy just isn't practical because of how weak the Sun is at those distances. All the probes sent to Jupiter and beyond have been nuclear powered.

    --
    "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by takyon on Monday November 22, @09:27PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday November 22, @09:27PM (#1198687) Journal

      Untrue. Solar power is now considered viable for Jupiter, although the panels are quite large. Saturn, forget about it.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_(spacecraft) [wikipedia.org]
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_Icy_Moons_Explorer [wikipedia.org]
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_Clipper [wikipedia.org]

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      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday November 22, @09:34PM

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Monday November 22, @09:34PM (#1198689) Journal

        Juno marks the first time solar panels have actually been used for a Jupiter mission, but you can expect many future missions to also use them:

        Europa Clipper

        Both radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) and photovoltaic power sources were assessed to power the orbiter. Although solar power is only 4% as intense at Jupiter as it is in Earth's orbit, powering a Jupiter orbital spacecraft by solar panels was demonstrated by the Juno mission. The alternative to solar panels was a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG), fueled with plutonium-238. The power source has already been demonstrated in the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. Five units were available, with one reserved for the Mars 2020 rover mission and another as backup. In September 2013, it was decided that the solar array was the less expensive option to power the spacecraft, and on 3 October 2014, it was announced that solar panels were chosen to power Europa Clipper. The mission's designers determined that solar was both cheaper than plutonium and practical to use on the spacecraft.[54] Despite the increased weight of solar panels compared to plutonium-powered generators, the vehicle's mass had been projected to still be within acceptable launch limits.

        Jupiter is a popular (frequent missions, and flybys are done just for the gravity assist [wikipedia.org]) and relatively easy to reach destination in the Solar system, so it's good that nuclear isotopes can be reserved for missions to Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Eris, etc.

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