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Aerojet Rocketdyne 'Ion Drive' To Reach The Asteroids? (Update!)

An ion drive created by Aerojet Rocketdyne might be the power system needed to take a NASA robot to an asteroid and bring a piece of it back.


(Aerojet Rocketdyne 'Ion Drive' To Reach The Asteroids)

Engineers at the Ohio center have been working on electric propulsion technology since the 1950s, and low-power ion thrusters have been used on probes such as the Dawn spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Ceres. Such thrusters use solar-generated electrical power to accelerate xenon ions to incredibly high speed.

The thrust amounts to just a whisper – roughly equivalent to the weight of a piece of paper pressing down on your hand. But over time, the acceleration can build up to more than 200,000 mph.

Today’s ion thrusters reach a power level of 4.5 kilowatts in space operations, and around 12.5 kilowatts in the lab. Aerojet is tasked with developing a 50- to 100-kilowatt system that puts thrusters together to provide the oomph required to get to an asteroid or Mars.

The first science fiction writer to talk about this propulsion system - and who coined the phrase "ion drive" was Golden Age great Jack Williamson.

Update: An even better science fictional precursor to this idea can be found in the 1961 novel The Planet Strappers, by Raymond Z. Gallun.

They had won twenty-five hundred dollars during the summer for building a working model of a sun-powered ionic drive motor—the kind useful for deep-space propulsion, but far too weak in thrust to be any good, starting from the ground...
(Read more about the sun-powered ionic motor)

Thanks to Fred Kiesche of Bernal Alpha for pointing out The Planet Strappers (and for helping to get it on Gutenberg!). End update.

Via GeekWire.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/22/2016)

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