Forget traditional chemical rockets, these ultra efficient ion engines are a form of electric propulsion that creates thrust by accelerating positive ions with electricity. In other words, spacecraft powered by these thrusters can achieve speeds over 200,000 mph, while the Space Shuttles can reach speeds around 18,000 mph. One caveat: the high top speeds of ion thrusters come at the price of low thrust (or low acceleration), and they must be used in a vacuum to operate at the available power levels. continue reading for two more videos and additional information.
“To compensate for low thrust, an ion thruster must be operated for a long time for the spacecraft to reach its top speed. Acceleration continues throughout the flight, however, so tiny, constant amounts of thrust over a long time add up to much shorter travel times and much less fuel used if the destination is far away. Deep Space 1 used less than 159 pounds of fuel in over 16,000 hours of thrusting. Since much less fuel must be carried into space, smaller, lower-cost launch vehicles can be used,” according to a NASA representative.