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ion engine

The US Air Force's most public secret, the X-37B unmanned spaceplane, is now a little less top secret. The Air Force has revealed that when the Orbital Test Vehicle (OTV) 4 mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral AFB on May 20, it will be carrying a Hall thruster as part of an experiment to improve the design for use on Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) military communications spacecraft. Read More
NASA's Dawn spacecraft added another trophy today to the conquest of space as it went into orbit around Ceres. According to the space agency, the unmanned probe arrived at about 4:39 am PST and is currently circling the dwarf planet at an altitude of about 38,000 miles (61,000 km) – making it not only the first spacecraft to reach a dwarf planet, but also the first to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies. Read More
The launch of two new communications satellites may not seem like news these days, but it is when they're the first satellites with all-electric propulsion. Boeing announced that the two 702SP small platform satellites, called ABS-3A and EUTELSAT 115 West B, that launched on Sunday evening are sending back signals to mission control as they power towards geosynchronous orbit under ion drive. Read More
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is currently in the final stages of its historic mission to place a satellite in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. The primary mission will take 16 months and will see the robotic explorer capture detailed images and measurements of Ceres, greatly improving our knowledge of the solar system. Read More
Like the end of a very long and eventful road trip, NASA's Dawn spacecraft has its main goal in sight. The space agency says that the unmanned probe has emerged from behind the Sun as it uses its ion propulsion to catch up with the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt and that mission control was able to re-establish contact. The craft has received instructions for executing a series of maneuvers that will take it on its final approach phase, which will end with it going into orbit around Ceres. Read More
NASA is preparing to launch its Orion spacecraft in December and its Space Launch System (SLS) is scheduled to fly by 2018. However, impressive as this is, more is needed if buyer's regret isn't to set in. To avoid this, the space agency is asking for proposals to develop new technologies to send astronauts to the asteroids and Mars using "sustainable, evolvable, multi-use space capabilities." Read More
NASA's Dawn spacecraft has recovered from an unexpected phenomenon that resulted in the robotic explorer going into safe mode on September 11, mirroring a similar event that affected the spacecraft three years ago as it approached the protoplanet Vesta. Dawn was launched in September 2007 atop a Delta II-Heavy rocket with a mission to explore Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. Read More
On June 18, the NASA Asteroid Grand Challenge was announced to a flood of media inattention. This was probably to be expected, as NASA actually said very little about it. Maybe so as to not attract the ire of forces in the US Congress that are trying to shut down the largest portion of this Grand Challenge; namely the capture and relocation of a seven-meter (23 ft) asteroid to a stable lunar orbit for study and as a practice site for asteroid exploration and exploitation. We've dug up the formal Request for Information (RFI) associated with the Grand Challenge, which gives a better idea of where NASA wants to put its money. Read More
On Monday, NASA announced that its advanced ion propulsion engine operated for 48,000 hours, or five and a half years – and that’s without stops for fuel or coffee. Developed under NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) project, the engine now holds the record for the longest test duration of any type of space propulsion system. Read More
Imagine an aircraft that is silent, invisible to infrared detectors, has zero emissions and can hover in an eerie manner that helicopters can’t. Now imagine it coming from technology currently used to suck dust out of living room air. That’s what a team of researchers at MIT is doing. They've conducted a study that indicates that ionic thrusters, currently a science fair curiosity, might one day take to the skies. Read More
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