Space travel to get boost from solar power

The reality of manned space travel has scientists on limited budgets looking at every angle that might make it happen efficiently. Recently, five aerospace companies contracted with NASA to study the idea of a new propulsion system, designed to turn the sun’s rays into electricity for space travel.

NASA hopes the end result is a new propulsion system that will power a reusable “space tugboat” capable of ferrying satellites from low-Earth orbit to the higher geosynchronous Earth orbit.

The idea is popular because a solar powered vehicle would save money on fuel and eliminate the need for the secondary rocket booster normally required to send a satellite into high orbit.

Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Aerospace Systems sector and Boeing‘s Phantom Works unit are two of the companies involved, each winning a four-month $600,000 NASA contract to conduct early-stage studies for a high-power solar propulsion system.

“The study has no hardware, so the `work’ is all design work, and will be done here in Redondo Beach mostly,” Northrop spokeswoman Mary Blake said in the Daily Breeze.

Just one piece of the space travel puzzle, the new solar-powered propulsion system would have other uses too, including cargo transportation for human exploration and cargo transportation to the moon.

Flickr photo by y gr33n3gg