The Prospects for MW Power Level Grideed Ion Thrusters

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D.G. Fearn (2003), JBIS, 56, 378-393

Refcode: 2003.56.378
Keywords: Ion propulsion, ion thrusters, electric propulsion, high velocity increment missions, deep space missions

For future deep space missions extending to the outer solar system, and including precursor interstellar exploration, nuclear electric propulsion (EP) is essential. It is also of great benefit for other missions requiring large velocity increments, such as manned visits to Mars. EP technology provides the necessary dramatic increase in the specific impulse (SI) available from the thrusters used, which must be capable of consuming total powers of the order of a MW. It is confirmed in this paper that this is indeed possible with gridded ion thrusters. Assuming the continued use of xenon propellant, it is shown that four 20 cm beam diameter thrusters could consume a total of 1 MW, and provide a total thrust of 10 N at an SI of 19,300 s. Many other options are also available to meet differing requirements. It is finally suggested that, in the extreme case, a 10 cm beam diameter thruster could be constructed offering a specific impulse of 150,000 s, a thrust of 1 N, and absorbing an input power of more than 800 kW.

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