How the ion drive will blaze a trail to asteroid

Image: Electric propulsion probe
An artist’s concept shows a space probe powered by ion thrusters. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s next-generation ion thrusters could well make their debut in space during NASA’s robotic mission to grab a piece of an asteroid and bring it back to lunar orbit in the 2020s.

Earlier this week, NASA announced that Aerojet’s operation in Redmond, Wash., would be getting in on a 36-month, $67 milllion contract to develop a high-power electric propulsion system for future spacecraft. Today, NASA officials explained what the system would be used for.

“Basically, we’re building a whole new drive train for deep-space exploration,” Bryan Smith, director of NASA’s Space Flight Systems Directorate at Glenn Research Center in Ohio, told reporters.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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