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NASA Invests in Solar Electric Propulsion Engines
In an effort to design more efficientÂ spacecraftÂ engines,Â NASAÂ granted rocket manufacturerÂ Aerojet RocketdyneÂ aÂ three-year contractÂ to develop advanced â€œsolar electric propulsionâ€ engines that could assist inÂ deep spaceÂ travel. The engines have the potential to beÂ ten times more efficient than chemical engines, and have twice the thrust of the electric enginesÂ that are utilized now. Theyâ€™ll help us travel further in ourÂ solar systemÂ and could even help send humans toÂ Mars.
Solar electric engines arenâ€™t a new idea. Electric engines have been in the worksÂ since the 1950â€™s, and since then NASA has pursued efficiency, working towards progressive solar electric technology.Solar electric presently powers crafts exploring deep space as well as the International Space Station. NASA recently sent theÂ record-breaking Dawn spacecraftÂ to orbit both asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet CeresÂ between 2011 and 2015, and the probe was powered by aÂ solar array. The International Space Station is currently powered byÂ solar arrays that supply even more energy than the station requires at once.
As we probe deeper into our solar system, solar electric engines can help us get fartherÂ for less moneyÂ since they provideÂ thrust over a lengthy period of time. The recent contract signals NASAâ€™s commitment to the efficient engines beneficial for deep space travel.
Depending on how well the new research goes, Aerojet Rocketdyne couldÂ deliver four of the super efficient units to fly in space. NASA has stated theyâ€™re working to snare an asteroid to orbit the moon during the next decade, and they would use the solar electric engines to do so.
NASAâ€™s Space Technology Mission Directorate associate administrator Steve JurczykÂ said, â€œDevelopment of this technology will advance our future in-space transportation capability for a variety of NASA deep space human and robotic exploration missions, as well as private commercial space missions.â€