NetworkWorld: Such a system would deploy large solar arrays that can be used to convert sunlight into electrical power that ionizes atoms of xenon which is the propellant for the spacecraft’s thrusters. By Michael Cooney
'The thrust of such a power plant isn’t huge but its ability to provide increasing, continuous power over a long period of time is what makes it so attractive for long-duration spaceflights. In addition, such a power plant could potentially increase spaceflight fuel efficiency by 10 times over current chemical propulsion technology and more than double thrust capability compared to current electric propulsion systems, NASA said.
'Specifically Aerojet Rocketdyne will develop and deliver an integrated electric propulsion system – known as the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) -- consisting of a thruster, power processing unit (PPU), low-pressure xenon flow controller, and electrical harness. NASA has developed and tested a prototype thruster and PPU that the company can use as a reference design, the space agency stated.
'NASA has long experimented and used different forms of electronic electric propulsion technology. NASA said the first successful ion electric propulsion thruster was developed at Glenn Research Center in the 1950s. The first operational test of an electric propulsion system in space was Glenn’s Space Electric Rocket Test 1, which flew on July 20, 1964. Since then, NASA has increasingly relied on solar electric propulsion for long-duration, deep space robotic science and exploration missions the most recent being NASA’s Dawn mission which surveyed the giant asteroid Vesta and the protoplanet, Ceres, between 2011 and 2015.'