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NASA Funds New Research Into Novel Space Engines

NASA has awarded a set of contracts to commercial companies workingon new propulsion technologies for future spacecraft.

The space agency granted up to $50 million each to five companiesfor research into novel enginesystem designs such as electric propulsion, new propellants made from non-toxicchemicals, and other areas.

The recipients of the funds include Aerojet of Sacramento,Calif.; ATK Mission Systems of Ronkonkoma, N.Y.; Northrop Grumman AerospaceCorporation of Redondo Beach, Calif.; Orbital Technologies Corporation ofMadison, Wisc.; and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc. of Canoga Park, Calif.

NASA hopes the new space technologies will help the agencyto "explore space as much as we can," said NASA spokeswoman KatherineK. Martin of NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

The agency is looking to enable missions with higherperformance, reduced cost, improved reliability and improved safety, she said.

NASA announced the new initiative amid several other contract award announcements, including five contracts worth up to $125 millioneach to companies working on Earth-based aviation technologies. Thesegrants will be used to research low-noise propulsion, alternativefuels, hybrid engines and other technologies for aircraft.

The new contracts come at a time when NASA is planning toembrace noveltechnologies under the new plan outlined in President Obama's 2011 budget. Theproposal calls for NASA to abandon the concrete plans it had for new spacecraft? the Ares rockets and Orion crew capsules ? to focus on forward-lookingtechnology and encourage private industry to develop human-rated spacecraft.

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