Voyager Space

Voyager Space

The Power of Propulsion: Voyager Space’s Flight Proven Technology Used for Deep Space Missions

Imagine a rocket. The popular image is a gleaming structure that roars to life with brilliant flame, lifting an impossibly large object from a launch pad to escape Earth’s gravity. However, the launch vehicle is just the start of the journey of a NASA deep space mission. Once a spacecraft is in orbit, there is another world of “in-space” propulsion that spacecraft use to reach their final destination.

When the NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL) Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission launched in November 2021, its SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle burned for approximately 10 minutes to set it on a collision course with the asteroid Dimorphos. To accomplish this, in-space propulsion was used for trajectory control moves to steer DART towards its target for 10 months after launch. The DART mission used a combination of chemical thrusters and the novel NEXT-C ion thruster – powered by Voyager Space.

The NEXT-C (NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster – Commercial) is a state-of-the-art electric propulsion system that converts solar energy into kinetic energy. The NEXT-C system uses a Power Processing Unit (PPU) to converter solar power into high currents required to ionize inert Xenon gas molecules and high voltage to accelerate the Xenon ions from the Thruster.

At full power, the NEXT-C system produces about 1/20th of a pound of thrust force, which is tiny compared to 1.7 million pounds of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. However, the NEXT-C system accelerates the Xenon ions to speeds up to 25,000 miles per second, which provides more thrust per pound of propellent than competing propulsion systems. NEXT-C allows missions to reduce required on-board propellant, allowing for a larger delivered payload mass and a smaller launch vehicle.

The significance of this project for Voyager is that we designed, built, and tested PPU for NASA’s NEXT-C Gridded Ion Thruster, and it was flight-proven on NASA’s historic DART mission from 2021 to 2022, as mentioned above.



The NEXT-C PPU is designed for deep-space missions that run on an unregulated solar bus with advantages in size, mass, power output range capability, and efficiency. Voyager is one of only two organizations that now provides gridded ion thruster system with NASA flight heritage.

While DART was a rousing success, the applications for the PPU technology are expansive. This technology can be used for orbit raising and station keeping, outer planetary science missions, defense applications, and more. We look forward to seeing its continued utilization aboard other NASA and commercial missions in the future.

*The legacy of this hardware is with ZIN Technologies, which Voyager Space acquired in March 2023.