An Ion Engine will Test NASA's Idea of Redirecting 'Global Killer' Asteroids

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 30, 2020

This project uses the kinetic force to avert a space rock that could possibly strike the planet. This is where NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster - Commercial ion engine (NEXT-C) comes in. Along with its six picture-snapping Italian Space Agency cubesats, the mission will also send a follow-up ESA spacecraft named Hera to definitively answer if we can manipulate the trajectory of Earth-bound asteroids.

NASA announced the development of a powerful ion engine as part of the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) space mission. The asteroid deflecting machine would crash into Didymos B. Those changes are expected to alter Didymos B's period of rotation, allowing ground-based telescopes to detect space rock.

The power processing unit of the thruster is removed from another vacuum chamber after successful testing. The environmental testing verified that NEXT-C could withstand the extreme launch vibrations and temperatures of spaceflight.

NASA plans to test the DART on the tiny binary asteroid system called Didymos with a pair of space rocks - Didymos A and Didymos B. Even though the space rocks are no threat to the planet, they are ideal for testing the machine's defenses. In the 2021 DART mission, Didymos and Didymoon are not in fact on a collision course with Earth, but they offer an interesting opportunity for a practice run. This zap sends the propellant-in the case of NEXT-C, that's xenon ions-to the second, negatively charged accelerator grid and then out of the engines as thrust. But, NEXT-C is an ion propulsion system that is three times as powerful as the NSTAR ion propulsion system on NASA's Dawn and Deep Space One, according to the reports.

The gear unit uses solar energy to deliver a positive charge to the mains.

DART is scheduled to launch in July, 2021. This propels them out of the engine, providing thrust. Besides, DART will probably leave a 20-meter crater on the moon's surface, and if all goes well.

The small satellites will separate from DART before the impact at Didymos B. They are created to capture images of the impact and debris caused by the collision.

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