Although Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy has been in the headlines for breaking records, a different engine may outshine it if tests this summer produce promising results. This article from popular mechanics explains how an already proven and widely used type of propulsion could be the method used to reach mars in the next decade. The article lightly explains how an ion engine works which I will summarize; using an ionized fuel source, typically xenon but other gases can be used as well, the engine push out these ions out to create thrust and push the engine forward. This type of engine was theorized by Robert Goddard (the father of space travel) in 1906. The hall effect thruster, a common type of ion thruster, has been used in hundreds of satellites by both the US and USSR for stabilization and course corrections. The hall effect is The article explains how a much larger version of these engines has been developed over the past few years and tested this past fall in the NASA Glenn research center in Ohio. It has broken records from previous engines and is slated to perform a 100 hour test fire this summer. If successful it is possible that this may be used to propel NASA to mars in the next decade.
One of my favorite explanations on how ion engines works comes from a YouTube series called “Because Science” and can be found here. Between the ion engine, the em drive, and antimatter engines we have three options to explore for journeys into space. Each has pros and cons but all have proven theoretically to be much more efficient than conventional rockets which will help us visit distant planets. To me these developments are extremely interesting because it will allow us to once again explore the unknown and may one day allow mankind to become a type I civilization. A very good video, linked here, explains a type I civilizations that comes from an incredibly intelligent theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.