As expected, in 2018 on board the ISS NASA will send a prototype of an ion rocket engine, where it will be tested during the year in real conditions. According to the creator of the engine, Dr. Patrick Neumann, in the future with his help will be possible to fly to Mars with only one tank of fuel.
Neumann Space has signed a contract with Airbus Defense & Space to deliver the product to the ISS. According to Neumann and his colleagues Marcela Bilek and David Mackenzie, the successful completion of the test for a step will bring humanity closer to the flight to Mars without refueling.
The specific impulse of the engine should exceed 11000 sec, which is 1400 seconds more effective than the electric power plant developed in NASA (HiPEP system).
The principle of the ion engine is based on the ejection of particles in the direction opposite to the motion of the spacecraft, which forces it to move forward. The Neumann ion engine bombards the fuel source with an electric arc, which “knocks out” ions, which then, being passed through the magnetic nozzle, are thrown back.
While the HiPEP system runs on xenon, the Neumann ion engine is on various metals that are abundantly present in space in the form of space debris, which makes ion fuel much less expensive.
Ion engines are not suitable for launching spacecraft and will be used in long space missions, as well as for servicing satellites in orbit or for transporting probes over long distances.