This Engine Could One Day Save Us From Planetary Disaster

This Engine Could One Day Save Us From Planetary Disaster

by Jennifer Leman, Popular Mechanics

Didymos, a 2,650-foot-wide asteroid, has an atypical cosmic companion— a 535 foot-wide satellite named Didymoon (10). These new two celestial bodies are not making a dangerous rendezvous with Earth, but they do provide an interesting opportunity for an apocalyptic dress rehearsal.

NASA and ESA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will head to Didymos, to knock Didymoon off course. 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.

But to pull this off, the DART mission is going to need some serious horsepower to get it to the Didymos system, which lies 6.8 million miles from Earth. Fortunately, NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster—Commercial ion engine, or NEXT-C for short, will get it there.

NEXT-C, which is made up of a thruster and a power-processing unit, was designed by researchers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Redmond, Washington.

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