X3 is an ion engine developed at the University of Michigan. Perhaps it is he who will help us in the next 20 years to fly to Mars.
The main difference between X3 and chemical accelerators is that to create thrust it uses not rocket fuel, but plasma – ion flow. As a result, the rocket with the ionic engine is able to move 8 times faster than its competitors (40 km / s vs. 5 km / s). This speed will significantly shorten the flight time to Mars. In addition, ion engines require much less fuel than chemical engines, which will allow taking more cargo on board the spacecraft.
The latest tests showed that X3 produces more than 100 kW, generating a 5.4 nu ton thrust at the nozzle exit – this is the highest among existing ion accelerators.
The main drawback of ion engines is still low rates of traction. This means that they will need more time to achieve acceleration commensurate with what the chemical rocket engines provide. To overcome this problem in the case of X3, engineers are trying by changing the design: instead of one, the engine will generate several plasma streams.
Today, scientists face the challenge of creating a powerful and at the same time relatively compact engine. While X3 can only be moved with a crane.