Aerojet Rocketdyne received an $18 million NASA contract to develop an electric propulsion thruster that can be used on future unmanned deep-space missions.

The work on the Commercial Gridded Ion Thruster System will be done at Aerojet’s facilities in Chatsworth and Redmond, Wash. Aerojet is owned by GenCorp, near Sacramento.

Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver two complete flight systems to NASA. The systems are made up of solar arrays and processing units that convert electrical power into the energy needed for the thruster components.

The thrusters are capable of being used in deep-space missions to Mars and the outer planets while reducing cost and trip time. Additionally, the thrusters will also have commercial applications as well, said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of advanced space and launch systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“It is truly the next step in the world’s robotic exploration of the solar system,” said Van Kleeck in a prepared statement released Monday.