5 Exciting Technologies NASA's Developing So We Can Make It To Mars And Back
J Thoendell stashed this in Space
The method (which is being called Solar Electric Propulsion) would move the spacecraft by shooting ions out its backside. This is similar to the engine that the Dawn spacecraft used to get to Ceres. Electrons break down xenon gas into plasma, and an electric field accelerates the particles until they shoot the back of the engine at high speeds. Solar power provides the electrons to make it work.
Solar electric propulsion doesn't provide the enormous thrust of rocket fuel. Instead it builds up speed slowly over time, eventually propelling the spacecraft at up to 200,000 miles per hour. And ion propulsion is very efficient too, using up to 10 times less propellant than rocket fuel.
The technology is already real, but now NASA needs to dramatically scale it up. To drive a heavier payload, the ion engines will need to be at least an order of magnitude more powerful.