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.