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NASA - Space Propulsion
April 16, 2008

The NASA Glenn Research Center develops technology breakthroughs that expand America's ability to explore and understand our universe. Glenn pioneered liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engines, the workhorses of the "space age." Missions from Apollo to the Space Shuttle have relied on chemical combustion. Along with new chemical engines, we are also developing new concepts, like electric propulsion and ion thrusters, that could provide safe, reliable and affordable trips to low Earth orbit and beyond.

Researchers at Glenn study advanced fuels and rocket engine technologies that will improve the performance of chemical rockets. One such technology, a high-energy rocket engine that uses a gelled propellant with higher density aluminum added to the fuel, was tested in our Research Combustion Lab.

Ion engine testingImage left: NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) undergoes testing in Glenn's Electric Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA

Two major ion-development activities at Glenn-the High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) ion engine and NASA's Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT)-continue to make advances. Another thruster developed at Glenn, the NASA-457M Hall thruster, is the largest ion thruster ever built and tested. It has shown more than 10 times more power and thrust than other such systems. The thruster will revolutionize the next generation of spacecraft, cutting in half some launch costs, enabling future missions to other planets, and more than doubling the weight of commercial payloads (like communications satellites) that can be transported to geostationary orbit.

Our research includes advanced chemical rockets and propellants; electric propulsion systems including ion thrusters, pulsed plasma thrusters and Hall thrusters; and nuclear thermal and nuclear electric propulsion.

Commercial applications include attitude control and station keeping for commercial satellites.

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Page Last Updated: July 28th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator