The futuristic ion propulsion system on NASA's Deep Space 1 spacecraft is the winner of Discover Magazine's Award for Technological Innovation in the exploration category.
Discover magazine's annual awards, now in their 10th year, honor teams whose innovations improve the quality of everyday life. Twenty-seven technologies were selected as finalists. Nine winners, featured in Discover's July issue, were announced at a recent ceremony in Florida.
The award went to NASA's Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Application Readiness (NSTAR) program team, which developed and delivered Deep Space 1's ion propulsion system. Accepting on behalf of the team was former NSTAR manager Jack Stocky of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
The ion drive combines a gas found in photo flash units with some of the technologies that make television picture tubes work to deliver a thrust only as powerful as the pressure of a sheet of paper resting on the palm of a hand. Despite the almost imperceptible level of thrust, this engine, for a given amount of fuel, can increase a spacecraft's velocity 10 times more than can a conventional liquid or solid fuel rocket.
Deep Space 1, launched last October, has tested 12 new technologies, including ion propulsion, so that they can be confidently used on science missions of the 21st century.
The NASA Solar Electric Propulsion Technology Application Readiness program began in the early 1990s as a partnership between JPL and NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH, to develop xenon ion engines for deep space missions. In June 1996, a prototype engine built by the Glenn center began a long- duration test in a vacuum chamber at JPL simulating the conditions of outer space. The test concluded in September 1997 after the engine successfully logged more than 8,000 hours of operation.
Results of the tests were used to define the design of flight hardware that was built for Deep Space 1 by Hughes Electron Dynamics Division, Torrance, CA, and Spectrum Astro Inc., Gilbert, AZ. Other partners in the development of the flight ion engine system included Moog Inc., East Aurora, NY, and Physical Science Inc., Andover, MA. Development of the ion propulsion system was supported by NASA's Office of Space Science and the Office of Aeronautics and Space Transportation Technology, Washington, DC. A portion of the program was supported by the Advanced Space Transportation Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL.
Deep Space 1 is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. More information about the mission is available on the web at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/ds1news .
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