[This text is based on a Reuters news story by Steve James, dated August 27, 1997.]
PASADENA, Calif. -- An ambitious new NASA project called Deep Space 1 (DS1 for short) -- the first mission of the so-called New Millennium program -- is set to blast off next July from Cape Canaveral and make flybys of an asteroid, a comet and the planet Mars.
During its initial two-year mission, DS1 will test 12 new technologies for future NASA missions as the space agency prepares to move into the 21st Century.
The most significant test will be of a revolutionary ion propulsion system, or solar electric propulsion, which could enable future missions to probe much deeper into space.
"It's a fast, flexible access to the solar system," DS1's Chief Mission Engineer Marc Rayman said. If the ion propulsion system works, it will enable spacecraft to travel ten times faster than conventional chemical power systems.
In ion propulsion, a stream of electrically charged particles produce thrust instead of burning chemicals. The charged particles cannot produce the rapid acceleration of chemical thrust, but over time they can produce much higher final velocity.
"Ultimately it will allow a spacecraft to go more quickly, but it has a slow buildup," Rayman said. "It will not effect going to the moon, but if the goal is farther, then ion propulsion will be more efficient."
On August 27, scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, showed off the DS1 module, which will be launched next summer on a Delta rocket. Spacecraft Test Manager Ralph Basilio said his team of 20 engineers and technicians were working day and night to get the craft ready.
Rayman said DS1 was scheduled to pass within 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10 km) of the asteroid 3352 McAuliffe, named after U.S. astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who died in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
After the flyby of the asteroid in January 1999, DS1 is scheduled to pass relatively close to Mars in April, 2000 and then make a close inspection in June of the comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura.
In addition to ion propulsion, the other main difference between DS1 and conventional spacecraft is its autonomous navigation system -- it will test its ability to navigate itself without any help from Earth.
Original file name: CNI - NASA Ion Propulsion
This file was converted with TextToHTML - (c) Logic n.v.