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Will future spacecraft fit in our pockets? - Dhonam Pemba

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When you picture a rocket, you might imagine a giant ship carrying lots of fuel, people and supplies. But what if the next wave of spacecraft were small enough to fit into our pockets? Dhonam Pemba details the future of microspacecraft, and how scientists at NASA are hoping to use micropropulsion to launch these tiny vessels outside of Earth’s orbit.

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TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Dhonam Pemba
  • Animator Qa'ed Mai
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
For space propulsion, there are different types of thrusters. There are thrusters for in space propulsion and thrusters for launching off the earth. Chemical propulsion has higher thrust, while ion and electric propulsion usually has higher efficiency. There is usually a tradeoff between thrust and efficiency. The specific impulse is a spaceship’s measurement of miles per gallon; it is a measure of how much the spacecraft can change its velocity per fuel used. Chemical rocket engines have high thrust but low specific impulses, meaning they are powerful but run out of fuel fast.

Due to Earth’s gravity and atmosphere, big powerful chemical rockets are needed to launch from the earth’s surface. However, chemical rockets engine run out of fuel before they can reach their maximum attainable speed. Ion thrusters have very high specific impulses but low thrust, which mean they are not powerful, but can provide propulsion for a very long time. They are good for deep space travel because their fuel can last a very long time, which allows them propel spacecraft to very high speeds with low fuel. Although Ion and Electric propulsion has today become accepted technology powering space missions like the Dawn spacecraft towards the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres, this technology wasn’t popular 15 years ago. Check out “Frequently Asked Questions About Ion Propulsion,” to get some answers to your potential questions.

Deep Space One was launched October 24, 1998 to test out high risk, but high reward technologies. Its success pioneered ion-propelled spacecraft missions. Want to learn about Future Spaceship Power and Propulsion? Watch this documentary.

Today, not only are researchers looking for new ways to develop ion and electric thrusters to propel large spaceships into deep space, but they are also developing small thrusters the size of sugar cubes to drive cubesats, provide precise maneuvers, altitude and repositioning control. NASA’s Game Changing Development Program advances technologies that may lead to new ideas and techniques for space missions and other initiatives. Visit the site! Then, visit the Microdevices Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and see the latest development ideas for microspacecraft.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animation lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Dhonam Pemba
  • Animator Qa'ed Mai
  • Script Editor Eleanor Nelsen
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

Share

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