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AIAA Award

June 10, 2005 —

 Anita Sengupta, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering and a senior engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has won the top award for best technical paper in 2004 by the Electric Propulsion Technical Committee of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

Anita Sengupta watches performance readings during a test of the ion engine in JPL's Endurance Test Facility. 

Sengupta’s paper, entitled “An Overview of the Results From the 30,000 Hour Life Test of Deep Space 1 Flight Spare Engine,” was submitted to and presented at the 2004 AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Sengupta will receive her award and a certificate of technical merit at an AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference to be held July 13, 2005, in Tucson, Arizona.
Sengupta’s research has focused on understanding the plasma physics inside an ion thruster, which powered a 1998 NASA spacecraft designed to test 12 new technologies. Ion propulsion engines use xenon gas as propellant, and solar energy to ionize the gas, which is 10 times more efficient than conventional rocket propellants.

In her award-winning paper, Sengupta validated the solar electric propulsion thruster technology used on the 1998 NASA Deep Space 1 mission for long-duration flight (approximately 30,000 hours or more), enabling it to be used as a primary propulsion system on future NASA science missions.  

“The results of our tests were mission-enabling for NASA Discovery class missions, such as the Dawn mission, a spacecraft tentatively set for launch in 2006 that will use three ion engines to rendezvous with two asteroids in deep space,” Sengupta said.  

Sengupta has also studied ways of improving the ion engines, which, if adopted, “will enable fewer thrusters for a given mission and allow the thrusters to be operated at higher efficiencies.”

Sengupta has been a working engineer and part-time USC student since receiving her bachelor-of-science degree from Boston University in 1998. She earned her master-of-science degree in aerospace engineering/astronautics in 2000 through USC’s Distance Education Network (DEN) program. In 2001, she began a USC doctoral program in aerospace engineering, which she will complete in July 2005.
--Diane Ainsworth