NASA has been testing propulsion systems for future Mars missions, and they may have found their solution in X3. This type of thruster works by drawing its acceleration power from nearby electric and magnetic fields. As a result, it is safer and much more fuel efficient than other types of propulsion systems. Unfortunately, these types of thrusters, called Hall-effect thrusters, do not have the same type of power as traditional chemical ones, and work is still being done to increase their power.
X3 was developed by NASA, researchers at the University of Michigan, and the US Air Force, with funding provided for by NASA. It was subjected to tests in the summer of 2017, and broke performance records, encouraging NASA engineers. In addition to achieving more power and more newtons of force, scientists were also able to locate minor issues to correct, which could lead to improved performance. The next test is a 100-hour test scheduled for the spring of this year. The thruster is set to be integrated into a power processing system as part of this testing process.
A single X3 thruster is powerful enough to transport cargo quickly and efficiently. When grouped together, these thrusters could be powerful enough to carry cargo and a human crew. The combined power and lack of a need for refueling could mean that these thrusters have the potential to transport people to distant stars and celestial bodies.
NASA is currently examining three engine possibilities, including the X3, to facilitate a human mission to Mars. This type of mission requires a strong propulsion system. The X3 is currently coming out on top of its competition, given its large throttling capacity and relative fuel efficiency. While the thrusters were originally conceived to transport objects within Earth’s orbit at high speeds, the potential application for further space exploration is easily within reach.