Hayabusa2 Fires Ion Engine During Trip Home

In December 2020, the Japanese Hayabusa2 spacecraft will return to Earth and, before entering the Earth’s atmosphere (during which it will burn up), will release a sealed capsule containing samples from two different locations on asteroid Ryugu, which, slowed down by the Earth’s atmosphere and a parachute, will land in Australia. (Credit: DLR)

TOKYO (JAXA PR) — The 2nd ion engine operation has begun. This is an important operation in the return journey of Hayabusa2 back to Earth. On May 12, 2020, the ion engine ignited at 07:00 (onboard time, JST) and was confirmed to be operating stably at 07:25 (ground time, JST).

Currently, only a single ion engine is operating as the spacecraft is far from the Sun, and receives a low level of solar power with which to operate the ion engines.

Schematic diagram of the Earth return orbit for Hayabusa2 and operations. (Credit: JAXA)

The 2nd ion engine operation will continue until around September this year. At the end of the operation, the spacecraft will be in an orbit that can deliver the capsule to Earth. After that—from October this year—we will perform precision guidance using the chemical thrusters (figure 1).

It is now only a short time before we return to Earth.

Aerojet and Partners to Market Ion Propulsion Internationally

PARIS, Le Bourget and SACRAMENTO, Calif., June 21, 2011 – Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, QinetiQ, (LSE: QQ.L) and EADS Astrium Crisa, an EADS (PAR:EAD) company, announced today that the companies have entered into a joint agreement to supply the XENITH(TM) (Xenon Ion Thruster) ion propulsion system to the worldwide commercial spacecraft market. The agreement will enable customers to benefit from the combined expertise of independent market leaders in design, manufacture and supply of space propulsion systems, who are collaborating to deliver the XENITH(TM) system.

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Ion Engines Could Make Mars Trips Routine

vx200_phasea_nozzle

Ion engine could one day power 39-day trips to Mars
New Scientist

Several space missions have already used ion engines, including NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which is en route to the asteroids Vesta and CeresMovie Camera, and Japan’s spacecraft Hayabusa, which rendezvoused with the asteroid Itokawa in 2005.

But a new engine, called VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket), will have much more “oomph” than previous ones. That’s because it uses a radio frequency generator, similar to transmitters used to broadcast radio shows, to heat the charged particles, or plasma.

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British Firm Developing Ion Engines for Space Missions

BBC News has an interesting story about Qinetiq, a British company that is developed advanced ion engines for use in future space missions.

Ion engines have great promise for future space missions, but their development is still in its infancy. Qinetig’s T5 ion engine will fly for the first time on ESA’s Goce spacecraft, which will map variations in the Earth’s gravity field.