NASA Lewis Research Center's electric propulsion technology program is developing and transferring new, innovative propulsion technologies to industry. Next-generation, high-performance arcjets are now operational on communications satellites. The improved fuel efficiency provided by this innovative, new arcjet technology was used both to reduce launch vehicle requirements and to extend satellite life.
Ion propulsion technology pioneered by NASA Lewis has been selected
as the primary propulsion system for the first New Millenium flight
(DS-1). Development of this system is ongoing under the Lewis-supported
NASA SEP (Solar Electric Propulsion) Technology Application
Readiness (NSTAR) program. In the past year, a 2.5-kW engineering
model 30-cm thruster and a breadboard power processor were fabricated
at Lewis and delivered to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
for life verification. Multiple development tests were also performed
at Lewis. Hughes Telecommunication and Space is developing the
NSTAR flight system under contract to Lewis.
In support of the Department of Defense, a ground system test
was completed on a 1.35-kW Hall thruster system under the first
phase of the Russian Hall Electric Thruster Test program (RHETT1).
A second phase to deliver and fly a hybrid U.S./Russian Hall system
is the goal of the Lewis-managed RHETT2 program. In RHETT2, under
sponsorship of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO),
a system incorporating a Russian-manufactured Thruster with Anode
Layer, a Lewis-developed cathode, and a power processor from U.S.
industry will be demonstrated on a Naval Research Laboratory satellite.
Pulsed-plasma thrusters (PPT) are being developed under a joint
Lewis/industry/university program for a broad range of applications.
First-generation PPT technology is scheduled for demonstration
for small satellite insertion in the Air Force's MightySat II.1
program and for propulsive attitude control in the New Millennium's
first Earth Observer mission.
In addition to the technologies being readied for relatively near-term
flight applications, Lewis' electric propulsion program continues
to develop a broad range of technologies for mid- and far-term
missions. Many of these development efforts are aimed at future
flight programs to be performed with small spacecraft and microspacecraft.
The program is designed to take advantage of the synergy between
advanced electric power and propulsion systems. For example, PPT's
providing very low impulse bits have been identified as enabling
for the high-resolution imaging missions projected for the 21st
century. Work is being done in-house and with both the industrial
and academic communities to find ways to minimize the mass and
volume of PPT systems for critical NASA missions. Similarly, low-power
electrostatic systems (ion and Hall) are being developed, and
a direct-drive testbed for demonstrating very efficient, simple
systems for the future has been installed under a joint NASA/Naval
Research Laboratory program.
Finally, all of the programs mentioned require significant, high-fidelity
testing of the components and systems to characterize performance,
plasma plume/spacecraft interactions, thermal control, electromagnetic
interactions, structural integrity, and other factors. The expertise
and specialized, high-quality testbeds available at Lewis permit
this critical testing to be done in a cost-effective, timely manner
for NASA, industry, and other government agencies. These capabilities
also provide a training ground for the next generation of engineers
and scientists for the exciting, high-payoff area of electric
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Last updated April 30, 1997
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