Aerojet, NEC to explore ion propulsion systems for satellites

  • 23-Jun-2010 08:02 EDT

Shown is an artist's conception of the Hayabusa spacecraft deploying one of the surface target markers used to guide the spacecraft's descent to the surface of asteroid Itokawa.

Aerojet and NEC Corp. signed an agreement to jointly supply Hayabusa-derived ion propulsion systems for the U.S. and Japanese aerospace markets. These ion propulsion systems provide significant advantages for geosynchronous satellites and deep-space missions through fuel efficiencies more than 10 times higher than those of conventional propulsion systems. The ion propulsion system first powered the Hayabusa spacecraft on its 186 million mi journey to the surface of the asteroid Itokawa. Then, after a near catastrophic failure of the chemical propulsion and attitude control systems, Japanese engineers used the ion propulsion system to recover the mission and return a sample collection capsule, which might contain the first-ever sample of an asteroid. The Hayabusa ion propulsion system was developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NEC. The system uses microwaves to ionize the propellant and carbon fiber grids to accelerate it, enabling long life and high mission reliability.

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