NASA Gets $21 Million To Develop Propulsion System

CLEVELAND (AP) - NASA Glenn Research Center has been awarded $21 million over the next 3½ years to develop a new propulsion system that could carry spacecraft to explore planets, asteroids and comets.

NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster system will use xenon gas and electrical power, rather than chemical propulsion, to move unmanned spacecraft faster and with larger scientific payloads.

"We've been working in this technology area for 40 years," project manager Scott Benson said.

Ion propulsion is used only in deep space to get a craft to its destination. Benson said electromagnetic forces and electric current are responsible for ion propulsion, rather than the combustion and heat used in chemical propulsion.

"It allows us to carry more science instruments and get them there faster, with the same launch system," Benson said. "We think it will be used on a variety of crafts going to a variety of destinations."

Researchers at NASA Glenn will be responsible for technical oversight of all design, Benson said.

The project has two phases. At the end of the first year, NASA headquarters will review the initial design, construction and testing done at NASA Glenn.

If the design tests out and if headquarters has the money, the research will continue and the system will be completed, Benson said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)