artist concept of Dawn

Advanced Propulsion for JPL Deep Space Missions

Mar. 19 & 20

JPL’s Dawn mission is en route to rendezvous with the main-belt asteroids Vesta and Ceres, and is using ion propulsion to get there. Similar thrusters have been used by communications satellites to control their orbits around Earth, but Dawn is one of the first NASA missions to use this technology. Using electricity from solar panels, the system accelerates ionized xenon gas to very high velocities, resulting in a gentle but steady thrust over many days, weeks or months. Such “ion beams” pushing the spacecraft through the solar system greatly increases the amount of thrust available from each kilogram of propellant carried by the spacecraft – enabling a new range of NASA science missions. This talk will explain how electric thrusters work, and when and why it is desirable to use this new technology.


Dr. Dan M. Goebel
Senior Research Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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