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NASA Just Announced It's Building an Electric Propulsion System to Take Us Into Deep Space

We have visited Moon and some countries are planning to start a colony on the moon now but if we we're going to start travelling to the rest of the Cosmos, we will require better spacecraft. Keeping that in mind, NASA has just presented a US$67 million pact to create a new electric propulsion system that could ultimately take us much deeper into space. This electric propulsion system work on a simple principle, instead of a chemical propellant electricity is used to get a spacecraft moving.

Image: NASA

The technology is planned to be tested on a large scale in an upcoming Asteroid Redirect missions, which basically aims to search for the ways we could deflect an asteroid directed to Earth, along with a crewed journey to Mars, scheduled for around 2030. You all know about Tesla motors and how they work on electricity and now our spaceships are going the same way. To make this work, solar panels will be used to produce an electric charge (obviously, cloud shield isn't a problem in space), and the involved propellant will be ionized by means of the collected electricity.

These positively charged ions, produced by conning electrons in a magnetic field, are then accelerated out of the vessel to produce thrust.

Electric propulsion isn't precisely a new technology. According to NASA, it's been working on this technology for over 50 years now, but as with any technology, it requires to be build cost-effective, completely safe, and firm before it can be used practically in a mission. By giving the new three-year deal to Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA is hopeful to speed up the process. 

NASA said "Work performed under the contract could potentially increase spaceflight transportation fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems,"

In order to go further in space, the use of less fuel is crucial. Aerojet Rocketdyne will work on a reference design made by NASA to yield a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. Xenon is frequently used as a propellant in ion propulsion structures because of the relative ease with which it can be ionised.

Currently, NASA's Dawn Mission spacecraft also work with solar-electric propulsion, but as The International Business Times reports, the thrusters being built by Aerojet are projected to be nearly five times more powerful.

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