Nasa's new ion thruster could take humans to Mars

A new rocket technology that is breaking records and could be used to transport humans to Mars is being developed by researchers from the University of Michigan in collaboration with the NASA and the US Air Force. NASA's new X3 thruster uses a stream of ions and expels plasma to propel a spacecraft, and can produce speeds up to 40 kilometres per second (25 miles per second), compared with chemically propelled rockets that top out at around five kilometres per second (3.1 miles per second). This increase in speeds is necessary for long-distance space travel such as a voyage to Mars, and the researchers believe ion propulsion technology could take humans to the Red Planet within the next two decades. Ion engines are also much more efficient that chemical-powered engines, requiring much less propellant to transport a crew and equipment over large distances. Recent tests on the X3 thruster have demonstrated that it can operate at over 100kW, generating 5.4 Newtons of thrust — the highest for an ionic plasma to date, and has also broken records for maximum power output and operating current. To find out more check out Ion Thruster Prototype Breaks Records in Tests, Could Send Humans to Mars.