"MAGNETISM: EEs needed to propel mag-beams"
EEs are desperately needed to help design magnetized-beam plasma propulsion systems that could send future spacecraft to Mars and back in 90 days. The systems would use a mag-beam to accelerate a craft out of Earth's orbit and another to decelerate it in Mars' orbit, eliminating or greatly reducing the need for on-board fuel or engines. Such systems would rejigger the cost and time calculations of manned flights to Mars, which would take more than two years with current propulsion technology. "We want to get the word out to electrical engineers, because this is a field where EEs can make major contributions," said Robert Winglee, an earth- and space-sciences professor at the University of Washington who is leading a multidisciplinary group at the school's Research Institute for Space Exploration. "Mag-beams could make space travel routine, and they are enabled by electrical engineering." NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (www.niac.usra.edu) has given Winglee's group $75,000 and six months to prove its plasma propulsion system can work. Eleven other teams have received similar funding, and, like Winglee's group, will be eligible for $400,000 of phase two monies.