HUGHES SPACE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANY
Electron Dynamics Division
P.O. Box 92919 (S10/S323)
Los Angeles, CA 90009
Public Relations (310) 364-6363
Investor Relations (310) 662-9688
HUGHES' ION ENGINE READY TO PERFORM IN DEEP SPACE
TORRANCE, Calif., Dec. 23, 1998 -- The ion engine on-board the New
Millennium Deep Space 1 spacecraft has completed acceptance testing
and is now ready to serve as the primary method of propulsion, a
stepping stone to prepare ion technology for future NASA space science
missions. Hughes Electron Dynamics, a unit of Hughes Electronics
Corporation, manufactured the ion engine.
The engine has now completed more than 500 hours of operation after
its successful startup on Nov. 24, and the spacecraft is now more than
6 million miles from Earth.
"The ion propulsion system has already operated for a longer
uninterrupted time on Deep Space 1 than we had planned for the entire
mission," said Deep Space 1 Deputy Mission Manager and Chief Mission
Engineer Dr. Marc Rayman of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "I
anticipate that the successful demonstration of this important
technology on Deep Space 1 will pave the way for exciting missions
throughout the solar system that would be unaffordable or impossible
with conventional chemical propulsion."
Hughes, with NASA, began investigating ion engines back in the
1960s. At that time, gases such as cesium and mercury were under
study, but xenon proved to be the best alternative to chemical
bipropellants. The NASA Solar Electric Propulsion Technology
Application Readiness (NSTAR) 30-centimeter system is one type of ion
engine. Hughes has also developed a commercial xenon ion propulsion
system, XIPS, that is used on its HS 702 and HS 601HP communications
satellites. Four XIPS systems are currently on-orbit; a fifth was
launched on board the Hughes-built PAS-6B on Dec. 21 and should begin
operation in the coming months.
"The benefit of a xenon ion engine is its efficiency," said Tim
Fong, general manager of Hughes Electron Dynamics. "The ion engine,
while very efficient, is slow to build speed. Some have likened it to
the lesson of the tortoise and the hare. If you want to get there
quickly, use a bipropellant. But if you have time to reach your
destination, an ion engine is an efficient alternative since a
reduction of propellant mass of up to 90 percent is possible,
resulting in a lighter spacecraft.
"Deep Space 1's ion engine has the ability to increase the
spacecraft speed by 10,000 miles per hour, yet will consume only 180
pounds of xenon, which would be 10 times more efficient than chemical
propellant. Efficient. Steady. Constant. These are the operational
characteristics of an ion engine," Fong said.
There were other design considerations for the NSTAR ion engine.
Unlike its commercial satellite cousins, it would be traveling in deep
space with diminished exposure to the sun and therefore less solar
energy would be available to power the spacecraft. For that reason,
the NSTAR ion engine is remotely programmable, allowing NASA to adjust
its thrust to meet these changing conditions over the life of the
"Ion engines are definitely the wave of the future," said Fong.
"It's something that has been mentioned in science fiction for
decades, but finally, it is reality. Hughes is proud of its
association with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and with NASA, and we
thank them for allowing us to participate in this mission."
Hughes Electron Dynamics is a world leader in the design and
manufacture of microwave, traveling wave-tube amplifiers, and ion
thrusters for commercial and military applications. The earnings of
Hughes Electronics are used to calculate the earnings per share
attributable to GMH (NYSE symbol) common stock.