An ion engine has been built by Australian scientists which is reported to be ten times more powerful than the one used by ESA for its Moon mission. This brings a manned mission to planet Mars closer to reality. An electric field is used by ion engines to accelerate a beam of ions away from the spacecraft providing propulsion.
Tests on a prototype at ESA's Electric Propulsion Laboratory in the Netherlands have shown that the engine's process produced an ion exhaust plume that traveled at 210 kilometers per second, which is more than 10 times faster than possible with the engine in ESA's Moon mission craft, and four times faster than the latest prototype ion engine designs.
'Crewed or heavyweight robotic missions to Mars become a distinct possibility, and there's even talk of interstellar missions,' New Scientist quoted Orson Sutherland of the Australian National University in Canberra, who led the team that built the engine, as saying. According to ESA, a cluster of DS4G engines could take a crew to Mars and back, or alternatively, the design could be used to slash the time of longer missions to Pluto, or the Kuiper belt.
It however says, that given the extensive tests that would be required to be carried out on it, it could be a decade before the engines make their debut in a space flight.