The space agency will also collaborate with Maxar Technologies for the development of the solar-electric propulsion
chassis that will be used for the spacecraft.
The two orbiters will be stacked together with the transfer module, which consists of solar-electric propulsion and traditional chemical rocket units, to form a single composite spacecraft.
The mission will use the gravity of Earth, Venus, and Mercury to maneuver, performing the interplanetary gravity-assist maneuver developed by Giuseppe Colombo and implemented in the Mariner 10 mission; it will also use the solar-electric propulsion technology ESA demonstrated in its SMART-1 mission.
Flight tests will continue for the next 6 to 9 months while the 2-seat prototype Sun Flyer is being assembled.A A A A George Bye, CEO of AEAC, said initial test results are confirming the overall benefits of solar-electric propulsion
, especially the very low operating costs.
QINETIQ has signed a 23 million [pounds sterling] contract with FADS Astrium for the supply of the solar-electric propulsion system for the European Space Agency's BepiColombo mission to Mercury.
Qinetiq's solar-electric propulsion system comprises four T6 ion thrusters which are claimed to be 10 times more efficient than traditional chemical thrusters.
Dr Mike Healy, director of earth observation, navigation and science at EADS Astrium, which is building the spacecraft, said: "The solar-electric propulsion
system is a critical component for the BepiColombo mission.
Although solar-electric propulsion produces much lower thrust levels than traditional chemical rocket systems, it is more efficient and therefore requires substantially less propellant volume.
With important contributions from other technology development programs, New Millenium will take on this challenge and bring full-scale solar-electric propulsion out of the lab and into space once and for all."
DART, which will be powered by a solar-electric propulsion
system, is scheduled to crash into Didymoon in October 2022.