(UR) It appears that solar energy and electrically-powered vehicles aren’t just popular on Earth. In an announcement made last week, NASA is increasing its interest and funding in electric propulsion, putting $67 million towards the development of an alternative to traditional, chemically-based fuels.

Rather than a specific nod to environmentalism, electrical propulsion represents increased speed and efficiency, allowing vessels to travel through our solar system at much greater velocities. One of the benefits of electrical propulsion is that it will shorten mission times and greatly reduce the time spent travelling between bodies. For potential missions to Mars, this form of engine offers incredible benefits.

Even with the speed of a spaceship being increased, travel time is not the only advantage to electrically-based engines. With the increasing effectiveness of photovoltaic technologies, and a complete lack of cloud cover or inclement weather in space, an electric engine will have access to an ever-renewable energy source.

Electric propulsion is not a new idea. It is, however, an idea that was lightyears ahead of its time when NASA began exploring it almost a half-century ago. Finally, with the technology having reached a point where it is cost effective, NASA can begin probing it as an alternative.

Although electric engines do not entirely run on electricity, access to renewable solar energy decreases the need for these proposed vessels to carry large volumes of their fuels. Using an electrical charge to ionize chemical or elemental fuels like Xenon, the research company awarded the NASA contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne, will explore ways to boost rocket efficiency and speed that will perhaps usher in a new era of space exploration.

With the first planned mission using the new engines engineered by Aerojet Rocketdyne being the asteroid capture in 2020, it seems like the sky can’t even limit the popularity and applicability of electric vehicles.

This article (Insanely Efficient Electric Engines Could Change Space Travel As We Know It) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris “Kikila” Perrin and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to undergroundreporter2016@gmail.com. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/NASA/JPL-Caltech