NASA just announced it's building an electric propulsion system

Discussion in 'Technology' started by Iris, Apr 23, 2016.

  1. Iris

    Iris Superhero Member Admin

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    We've made it to the Moon, but if we're going to start exploring the rest of our Universe, we're going to need better spacecraft. With that in mind, NASA has just awarded a US$67 million contract to develop a new electric propulsion system that could eventually take us much deeper into space.


    In essence, electricity is used in place of a chemical propellant to get a spacecraft moving. The tech is slated to be used in the upcoming Asteroid Redirect missions, which aim to explore the ways we could deflect an asteroid headed to Earth, as well as a manned trip to Mars, scheduled for around 2030.


    We've already seen cars start to make the switch to electric, and now our spaceships are going the same way.


    Solar panels will be used to generate an electric charge (of course, cloud cover isn't a problem in space), and the on-board propellant will be ionised using the harvested electricity. These positively charged ions, created by trapping electrons in a magnetic field, are then accelerated out of the ship to provide thrust.


    Electric propulsion isn't exactly new ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ NASA says it's been working on it for more than 50 years ├óÔé¼ÔÇ£ but as with any technology, it needs to be made cost-effective, safe, and stable before it can be used in a mission. By awarding the new three-year contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA is hoping to to speed along the process.


    "Work performed under the contract could potentially increase spaceflight transportation fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems," said NASA.


    When we start talking about long-distance space trips (the journey to Mars could take eight months or so), fuel efficiency becomes very important. Being able to travel longer distances with less fuel is crucial if we're going to get further out into the great beyond.

    [​IMG]


    Aerojet Rocketdyne will use a reference design developed by NASA to produce a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. Xenon is commonly used as a propellant in ion propulsion systems because of the relative ease with which it can be ionised.


    "Through this contract, NASA will be developing advanced electric propulsion elements for initial spaceflight applications, which will pave the way for an advanced solar electric propulsion demonstration mission by the end of the decade," said NASA associate administrator Steve Jurczyk.


    "Development of this technology will advance our future in-space transportation capability for a variety of NASA deep space human and robotic exploration missions, as well as private commercial space missions."


    NASA's Dawn Mission probe also uses solar-electric propulsion, but as The International Business Times reports, the thrusters being developed by Aerojet are expected to be around five times more powerful.

    Source: Science alert
     
  2. forgotten in space

    forgotten in space Champion Super Mod

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    not for the take-off?
     
  3. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    I wonder why they don't do something more innovative in terms of human engineering when they have plenty of things already reverse engineered?
     
  4. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    This article seems to concern the infamous EM-drive that's been in the news for almost two years for now. Essentially, as it looks on paper, it seems to be a perpetuum mobile. EDIT: Nvm, it doesn't.

    Huh, what do you mean ( like, aliums? ) ?
     
  5. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    Yes, aliums...
     
  6. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    1. Reverse engineering is often as hard, if not even harder, than just engineering.
    2. ... Also, one must consider the possibility that there actually isn't any alium technomonologiums lying around. :P
     
  7. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    That's true enough but it's said the gov't is 70 years ahead technologically than what they reveal and I for one believe in aliums but wouldn't be surprised of they didn't exist at all. I tend to thing they are interdimensional rather than extraterrestrial.
     
  8. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    Technology-wise, it's quite possible and one might even argue probable that the military industry is much more advanced than the civilian world can even imagine. However, it's quite a different case to argue that it's so much more advanced that (theoretical-) even the science community wouldn't even have a clue about it (i.e. it defies out current understanding on the fundamental workings of nature to such an extent that it would be considered "impossible", in the scientific sense). I'm not claiming that anyone is saying that at this point, but just, you know, "INB4". :P

    Extraterrestial aliens having visited Earth during recorded human history is highly unlikely, indeed. Extradimensional, *shrugh*, can't prove or disprove, don't even have grounds on which to speculate, tbh. Such being would have such a different perspective on reality that trying to "dumb down" their being/existence (in the ontology-sense) to our plane might well be completely futile.

    As for the EM-drive, search for buzzwords like zero-point energy, Casimir effect (this one in particular, although the NASA EM-drive does not expoit this explicitly), cavity QED...

    EDIT: Ah, here we're just talking about just ion drives. Those are really not special at all. They're essentially just a low-momentum propulsion system that turns out to be really effective in the long run, compared to conventional "burners".
     
  9. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    Ok, the Casimir effect hypothetically would work well in a vacuum but now fringe thinking tells us the universe is not a vacuum rather it is electric and plasma. Just too many people giving us their two cents and the media at large doesn't tell the truth IMO anyway.
     
  10. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    It's not fringe thinking at all, it's quantum physics in its simplest form. A vacuum state in QED (quantum electrodynamics) is a state with zero photons (particles of light - also carriers of the electromagnetic force and excitations of the electromagnetic field). However, there are inherent uncertainties (i.e. not uncertainties like "we don't have enough information to know for sure", but like "one quantity can't be quantified precisely when another is, and vice-versa") in quantum physics, and in this particular case, there's an uncertainty in the energy of this zero-photon vacuum state, inversely proportional to the time we measure it (in other words, energy conservation can be violated as long as it happens fast enough). Even more, there's actual energy even in this vacuum state, but since all that matters in the end for physical processes are energy differences, one can just "shift" the zero-point of energy to the energy of the quantum vacuum (obvious relation to the term "zero-point energy").
    Anyway, these fundamental uncertainties in energy in nature are often synonymous to what are called quantum fluctuations and a corollary of those are virtual photons (without getting too technical, photons that "virtually" exist but since they don't really interact with anything other than themselves, they exist sort-of in potentia. Incidentally, the Casimir force is exactly the way we can actually observe this "virtual force" (I'm being really loose with the jargon here, but jargon in a non-professional discussion is really bad form anyway, imho).

    So yeah, there's an electric field even in the vacuum for sure, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. How we see, measure, and interact with it is a whole other mother and we can leave that for a future discussion for now. ;)

    PS: Don't get your science just from the media. The media industry is out for your attention and that's the only currency it values, so it creates as much sensation as it can get away with (and then some more). And obviously, in some cases, it's biased towards special interests.
     
  11. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    Let me explain: I guess I called it fringe thinking because when talk to my friend or coworkers about quantum physics or even the fact that the universe is more than just a vacuum in which they thing of it as nothingness and nothing more they look at me like I'm weird. HAHA! And no, I do not get my info from the media at all.

    It just seems like people in general have no idea about the universe at all, everything you mention in the vacuum state the people I talk to have no idea about any of it. [MENTION=93]lexo[/MENTION], what's your take on theories like hollow earth and flat earth?
     
  12. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    Well yeah, I suppose most people don't need to have a working knowledge of quantum physics, but I believe the time will come and actually even now some more general knowledge would be warranted because basically all technology relies on our understanding on quantum physics nowadays.

    As for hollow- and flat Earth - short answers: no. Slightly longer: silly conjectures that immediately start falling apart when you start drawing logical conclusions and doing observations.

    I'm somewhat more tolerant to some of the more eccentric theories out there, but I usually like to answer them with the question "do you really want to throw the baby out with the bathwater?". What I mean, loosely speaking, is "ok, you assume x, but then y, which you sure think is true, wouldn't hold. Also, if you do in fact assume x, then z would also be true, but z is clearly not the case, wouldn't you agree?" .
     
  13. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    I totally get what you're saying. There used to be a dude who I used to listen to his stuff a lot until a couple of years ago when he started talking about how the flat earth theory is real and I lost all interest because for all the things I look into or even believe in the possibility/probability of things the flat earth theory is one I can't stand behind. Same with the hollow earth.
     
  14. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    I was just being very diplomatic, of course they're silly ideas, although the people who actually advocate them (haven't met anyone, so I'm not sure they even exist (by their own logic)), might be actually be quite smart for having conned themselves all through elementary/middle school.
     
  15. lexo

    lexo Resident Elite Registered Member

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    In case anyone is still interested, I got curious and looked up some stuff about QED and the Casimir effect.
    I'll quote some passages from a particularly good paper by R. L. Jaffe (published on the 12th of July, 2005, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevD.72.021301 ( just in case - got to reference :P )). Some comments:
    - The cosmological constant is a term in Einstein's field equations which is taken to be responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe we observe.
    - What's it's physical content, we don't know. That's why it's ominously dubbed as dark energy.

    Then there's a few pages of technicalities which I wouldn't even know how to post here (formulas and Greek letters). Then, finally, an annotated conclusion:


     
  16. Sheolite

    Sheolite T&G Addict Registered Member

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    Excellent read.
     

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