Which spacecraft / satellites currently deployed in space (2015) use ion thruster propulsion and how do they compare? The wikipedia article have some comparative numbers, but some of the engines on the list don't seem to have even left the lab yet and a lot of the info is missing. What I would like to see is a list of spacecraft using ion thrusters with details like:

  • Number of thrusters
  • Mass per thruster
  • Fuel type and mass
  • Required power per thruster
  • Specific impulse
  • Thrust per thruster
  • Period operational and any thruster failures

1 Answer 1


Dawn and Deep Space 1 both use the NSTAR ion engine - I got my stats from a mix of sources so there may be small differences between the engines used on the two spacecraft, but they seem to be pretty similar.

  • Dawn has 3 redundant NSTAR thrusters (not intended to be used together); DS1 has 1.
  • Thruster mass is 8.2kg, power processing unit and control unit bring it to ~25.5kg total
  • Xenon fuel, 425kg on Dawn, 82kg on DS1
  • 2100-2300 watts at full power
  • ISP 3100s at full power
  • 90mN at full power

DS1's thruster failed after a few minutes due to crud on the ion grids, but was eventually restarted. Launched in October 1998, the thruster ran for 1800 hours, with 34 restarts, through April 1999 for its primary mission. Its mission was extended and the thruster ran a total of something like 10,000 hours before being shut down at the end of 2001.

As of 2010, Dawn had fired its thrusters for ~15000 cumulative hours of acceleration and managed 4.3 km/s of delta-v, an average of something like 8 micro-g acceleration over that time period if I did my math right.

Japan's Hayabusa 2 is ion-propelled, but I had a harder time finding stats:

  • 4 thrusters
  • Xenon fuel (Hayabusa 1 carried 65kg)
  • ISP 2800s
  • 1000 watts?
  • 28mN thrust each? (another source says 10mN each?)

Hughes/Boeing/L-3 Communications Electron Technologies XIPS units are flying on a large number of Boeing 601- and 702-series communication satellites. I can't find mass figures for them, but they're quite compact and probably in a similar ballpark to the others listed. In this role they're fired periodically for orbital stationkeeping, for up to 30 minutes (702) or 5 hours (601) per day.

  • 601 series: 500 watts, ISP 2568s, 18mN thrust, 13cm grid
  • 702 series: 4500 watts, ISP 3500s, 165mN thrust, 25cm grid (14 satellites, 56 thrusters in operation as of 2007?)

The Aerojet BPT-4000 Hall effect thruster is used on a the AEHF USAF communications satellite -- 3 of them seem to be currently operational.

  • Thruster mass is 7.5kg
  • Xenon fuel
  • 4500 watts
  • ISP 1950s
  • 270mN

Other Hall effect thrusters have been used (e.g. on SMART-1 and TacSat-2, which are no longer in operation). SMART-1's Snecma PPS-1350G:

  • 5.3kg thruster (including Xenon flow control systems), 29kg (complete propulsion system)
  • Xenon fuel, 82kg
  • 1200 watts
  • ISP 1640s
  • 68mN thrust (thruster rated 88mN at 1500 watts)
  • Operated for 5000 hours

Other Hall thrusters from Russia's OKB Fakel range from 350-5000 watts, 1100-1750 seconds ISP, and 20-300mN thrust.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Hughes/Boeing has put up many geosynchronous birds that use Xenon ion propulsion for stationkeeping in the 601 and 702 series. The 702's use XIPS, which are 25 cm, 3500 s, 165 mN, 4.5 kW (can be throttled down). $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 21:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This image from Aerojet shows 226 operational satellites using electric propulsion in 2008: americaspace.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/… $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ That's a really helpful graphic. Note that the EHTs and Arcjets listed are mostly hybrids of hydrazine thrusters with a secondary section after the decomposition chamber in which either an electrical heater or a direct arc is used to post-heat the decomposition products. They are both an interesting compromise on the thrust vs power/Isp trade-off but are not ion thrusters in terms of the question here. $\endgroup$
    – Puffin
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 12:48

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