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What a lab test

June 29, 2013

Interesting news via The Register about a very long-term trial run for a piece of equipment.

NASA to flip ion engine’s ‘OFF’ switch after brilliant 5.5 year burn

NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT), an ion-propulsion engine that has been firing continuously for five and one-half years, is due to be shut down at the end of this month.

“We will voluntarily terminate this test at the end of this month, with the thruster fully operational,” said NEXT’s principal investigator Michael Patterson in a statement. “Life and performance have exceeded the requirements for any anticipated science mission.”

Considering that the NEXT thruster has run steadily for over 48,000 hours, we would say that Patterson and his team have contributed mightily to NASA’s reputation of building devices with life spans that exceed expectations. The Martian mini-rover Opportunity, for one excellent example, was originally designed for a 90-day mission, but celebrated its ninth anniversary this January and set a new NASA distance record in May.

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