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02-046
For Release: July 1, 2002

Katherine K. Martin
Media Relations Office
216/433-2406
katherine.martin@grc.nasa.gov

Lori J. Rachul
Media Relations Office
216/433-8806
lori.j.rachul@grc.nasa.gov


Glenn Chosen To Lead Development of NEXT Ion Engine

NASA's Office of Space Science has awarded approximately $21 million to its Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, to develop a next generation ion propulsion system. This advanced system is an alternate to conventional chemical propulsion and could revolutionize the way we send science missions deeper in to the solar system.

Glenn was selected to lead development of NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) system, which will use xenon gas and electrical power to drive future spacecraft. The NEXT Project is a two-part effort, with Phase 1 consisting of a one-year undertaking to design, build and test initial components. The second phase, dependent upon NASA's exercise of an option, would complete hardware development and integrate components into a full-scale system.

The major feature of NEXT is a thruster that utilizes design knowledge gained from the ion thruster that successfully propelled the Deep Space 1 to a flyby of asteroid Braille and the comet Borrelly. "NEXT more than triples the power level of Deep Space 1's ion thruster while increasing efficiency and system performance characteristics," said Mike Patterson, NEXT principal investigator at Glenn. "We have met our performance objectives with laboratory experiments of the 40 cm diameter thruster."

The successful proposal for NEXT was developed by a team composed of Glenn, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; General Dynamics Space Propulsion Systems, Redmond, Wash.; Boeing Electron Dynamic Devices, Torrance, Calif.; Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo.

Advanced power processing, xenon propellant management and thruster gimbal technologies will also be developed by the team to complete the NEXT ion propulsion system.

The technology advances made by NEXT over the previously used system will provide benefits to solar system exploration missions. "For missions to outer solar system planets, a NEXT system can shorten the interplanetary trip times and make it possible to go to multiple destinations, with less than half the thrusters, compared to the system using capabilities that powered Deep Space 1," said Scott Benson, Glenn's NEXT project manager.

NEXT was selected for award from the Research Opportunities in Space Science 2001 NASA Research Announcement, under the In-Space Propulsion Program in the Solar System Exploration Division of NASA's Office of Space Science. The In-Space Propulsion Program is managed by the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. and implemented by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

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