Skip to content
Search AI Powered

Latest Stories

NASA Thinks This Investment Will Be The Key To Sending a Human To Mars

NASA Thinks This Investment Will Be The Key To Sending a Human To Mars

NASA has long been interested in using solar and electric power in its spacecraft. Its most recent investment hopes to revolutionize solar electric rocket engines.

[DIGEST: Space.com, NASA]

When propelling a spacecraft into the cosmos, there are two main factors to consider: power and longevity. Most of NASA’s current missions prioritize power: getting to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and back doesn’t require an engine to push the spacecraft continuously forward for long, and the majority of NASA’s current work remains in LEO. In a move toward engines that supply gentler thrust for a longer time, NASA has recently awarded a $67 million contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop an advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP) system for rocket engines.


NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland. Credit: Source.

Using electric propulsion in space is far from a new idea: it was first tested in 1964, with NASA’s Space Electric Rocket Test 1, and has continued to develop since then. Most recently, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft used solar electric propulsion to fly to the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres to study the early solar system. Over the next three years, Aerojet Rocketdyne will work to improve SEP technology, making it more powerful, efficient and affordable. The resulting system could be ten times more efficient than standard (chemical) rocket engines and twice as powerful as any electric propulsion systems that exist now.

Credit: Source.

Conventional rocket engines work by pumping chemical fuel and oxygen into a tank, where they mix and burn. The hot exhaust from the burning propellant then shoots through a nozzle, pushing the spacecraft forward in the opposite direction. Solar electric propulsion uses different means to get to a similar end, using electricity instead of fire to accelerate the propellant. SEP systems convert sunlight into electricity and then use that electricity to

accelerate ions (electrically charged particles) through the nozzle. Their strength lies not in their intensity (solar electric engines are less immediately powerful than fuel-burning engines), but in their ability to provide consistent thrust for a long time.

NASA hopes that this new technology will allow missions to explore farther and faster, at a lower cost. The more efficient an SEP-powered spacecraft is, the less fuel it needs to carry. The less fuel it carries, the faster it can go (or the more cargo it can carry while moving at the same speed). Those benefits could pay off for some of NASA’s most ambitious missions. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission to capture an asteroid and place it in orbit around the moon is already slated to test the largest most advanced SEP system ever used in space. After that, solar electric propulsion may be used to get humans to Mars or even further.

NASA rendering of Solar Electric Propulsion. Credit: Source.

As Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said, “Development of this technology will advance our future in-space transportation capability for a variety of NASA deep space human and robotic exploration missions, as well as private commercial space missions.” An investment in solar electric propulsion now could pay dividends in exploration for decades to come.

More from News

A woman looking at a group of people on a sidewalk
woman standing in the middle of crowd
Photo by Jason W on Unsplash

People Break Down The Most Bizarre Coincidences They Have Ever Experienced

There are those who go through life believing everything happens for a reason, that our destinies are all planned out by a power bigger than us, and our lives are ultimately driven by fate.

Then there are others who don't believe that one bit, and chalk up anything others might call "fate" or "destiny" to merely being a coincidence.

Keep ReadingShow less
Janet Jackson
Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images/GettyImages

Janet Jackson Hilariously Explains Why She Hates Being Interviewed—And We Totally Get It

Pop icon and actor Janet Jackson had a very candid response to being asked an interview question, and the internet didn't hate her for it.

The "Rhythm Nation" singer continues to perform since establishing herself early in the 1980s as an artistic force to be reckoned with in her own right, independent of her family's musical legacy.

Keep ReadingShow less
Screenshot of 'Family Feud' episode
'Family Feud'

'Celebrity Family Feud' Question About Greatest Rapper Of All Time Sparks Intense Debate

People online were shocked by answers during recent episode of Celebrity Family Feud, and honestly, their arguments were more than valid.

Celebrity contestants Tori Kelly and Meghan Trainor, along with their families, struggled to fill the board housing survey results of the "greatest rapper of all time"... but it wasn't completely their fault.

Keep ReadingShow less
Lauren Boebert; Donald Trump; Kamala Harris
Nathan Howard/Getty Images; Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images; Al Drago/Getty Images

Boebert Swiftly Fact-Checked After Using Old Trump Donation To Harris To Prove He Isn't Racist'

Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert was swiftly fact-checked after using a $5,000 check former President Donald Trump once wrote to support Vice President Kamala Harris' re-election campaign as Attorney General of California as proof he can't be racist.

Boebert's action came after President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race and endorsed Harris. At 81, Biden faced increasing concerns within his party about his age and capacity to serve another term, along with fears of a potential loss to former President Donald Trump—who is 78—in November.

Keep ReadingShow less
Screenshots of Donald Trump and Kamala Harris
@KamalaHarris/X

2019 Kamala Harris Ad Explains Why She Is 'The Anti-Trump'—And People Can't Believe How Perfect It Is

A 2019 Kamala Harris for President ad that points out that she "prosecuted sex predators" and that former President Donald Trump "is one" has resurfaced after President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race and endorsed Harris as his successor.

The video, which refers to Harris as the "anti-Trump," was originally produced during Harris’ bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination, highlights her accomplishments as a prosecutor—and demonstrates that Trump is exactly the type of person she would have prosecuted for his sex crimes.

Keep ReadingShow less