Aerojet, NEC Partner To Supply Ion Engine

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U.S. propulsion firm Aerojet and NEC Corp. of Japan will jointly supply propulsion systems derived from the one used on Japan’s Hayabusa probe for the U.S. and Japanese aerospace markets under an agreement Aerojet announced June 14.

Japan’s Hayabusa asteroid probe, which returned a sample canister to Earth June 13, relied on its ion propulsion system to complete its seven-year journey after its chemical propulsion and attitude control systems failed, nearly ending the mission.

Haybusa’s ion propulsion system was developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NEC. The system uses microwaves to ionize the propellant and carbon fiber grids to accelerate it, enabling long life and high mission reliability, according to the Aerojet press release.

“Collaborating with Aerojet will help NEC to expand its low power Microwave Ion Propulsion Engine business in the U.S. market,” NEC Corp. associate vice president Kunio Kondo said in a written statement. NEC and Aerojet are targeting the geosynchronous satellite and deep space mission market, according to the release.