WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency says it has signed an agreement that might lead to testing of a new plasma-based propulsion system at the International Space Station.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Ad Astra Rocket Co. of Webster, Texas, signed the Space Act Agreement. Ad Astra is commercially developing the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket engine that was initially studied by NASA.
The space agency said the agreement is the first for a payload on the station's exterior and represents an expansion of NASA's plans to operate the U.S. portion of the space station as a national laboratory.
"Ad Astra's Space Act Agreement with NASA offers an example of just the kind of research and technology development that we should be doing on the International Space Station, can do there and cannot easily do anywhere else," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said.
NASA said the project will pave the way in demonstrating a new class of larger, more complex science and technology payloads to be installed on the station's exterior. Space agency officials said they hope the Ad Astra agreement will encourage other entities, both governmental and commercial, to pursue similar projects and to facilitate the success of those projects by providing a model for implementation.