The U.S. Air Force’s mysterious space plane has been testing all sorts of classified tech in recent years, but the X-37B’s latest mission could be the most interesting yet.
Popular Science reports that the unmanned space plane will be trying out a new propulsion system during its upcoming mission next month, using technology that actually dates back to the Soviet Union circa 1960. The Air Force Research Lab has confirmed that the ship’s fourth flight will test out Hall thrusters that could prove to be a new, fuel-efficient engine for maneuvering spacecrafts in space.
Basically, it’s a bigger version of the ion engines commonly used to maneuver satellites and deep-space probes. It basically creates thrust by accelerating ions, as the name implies. Yes, if an ion engine sounds familiar, it should — it’s the same thing that powered TIE fighters. Who knew George Lucas was so prescient?
According to the Air Force Research Lab, the mission will collect telemetry and data from the Hall thruster as it operates in the space environment while also measuring the thrust on the vehicle. Whatever it finds, the team plans to use the experiment to better refine Hall thrusters in the hopes they’ll play a role in future spaceflight and navigation.
Just think: Give us a few decades, and we might have some real-life TIE fighters (Kidding. Well, probably).
(Via Popular Science)