NEXT project 40-cm ion thruster.
The NASA Glenn Research Center was the major contributor of 2-kW-class ion thruster technology to the Deep Space 1 mission, which was successfully completed in early 2002. Recently, NASA’s Office of Space Science awarded approximately $21 million to Glenn to develop higher power xenon ion propulsion systems for large flagship missions such as outer planet explorers and sample return missions. The project, referred to as NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT), is a logical follow-on to the ion propulsion system demonstrated on Deep Space 1. The propulsion system power level for NEXT is expected to be as high as 25 kW, incorporating multiple ion thrusters, each capable of being throttled over a 1- to 6-kW power range. To date, engineering model thrusters have been developed, and performance and plume diagnostics are now being documented. The project team-Glenn, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, General Dynamics, Boeing Electron Dynamic Devices, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Michigan, and Colorado State University-is in the process of developing hardware for a ground demonstration of the NEXT propulsion system, which comprises a xenon feed system, controllers, multiple thrusters, and power processors. The development program also will include life assessments by tests and analyses, single-string tests of ion thrusters and power systems, and finally, multistring thruster system tests in calendar year 2005.
In addition, NASA’s Office of Space Science selected Glenn to lead the development of a 25-kW xenon thruster to enable NASA to conduct future missions to the outer planets of Jupiter and beyond, under the High Power Electric Propulsion (HiPEP) program. The development of a 100-kW-class ion propulsion system and power conversion systems are critical components to enable future nuclear-electric propulsion systems. In fiscal year 2003, a team composed of Glenn, the Boeing Company, General Dynamics, the Applied Physics Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, and Colorado State University will perform a 6-month study that will result in the design of a 25-kW ion thruster, a propellant feed system, and a power processing architecture. The following 2 years will involve hardware development, wear tests, single-string tests of the thruster-power circuits and the xenon feed system, and subsystem service life analyses.
The 2-kW-class ion propulsion technology developed for the Deep Space 1 mission will be used for NASA’s discovery mission Dawn, which involves maneuvering a spacecraft to survey the asteroids Ceres and Vesta. The 6-kW-class ion thruster subsystem technology under NEXT is scheduled to be flight ready by calendar year 2006. The less mature 25-kW ion thruster system under HiPEP is expected to be ready for a flight advanced development program in calendar year 2006.
Find out more about this research:
Ion propulsion research at Glenn
Glenn chosen to lead development of NEXT ion engine
NASA selects team to lead development of advanced technology for future in-space propulsion applications
Glenn contact: Michael J. Patterson, 216-977-7481, Michael.J.Patterson@nasa.gov
Authors: Michael J. Patterson, Vincent K. Rawlin, and James S. Sovey
Headquarters program office: OSS
Programs/Projects: Deep Space 1, NSTAR, NEXT, HiPEP
Special recognition: Aviation Week & Technology 42nd Annual Aerospace Laurels (1999), Turning Goals into Reality Award (2001), Discover Magazine’s Award for Technological Innovation (1999), R&D 100 Award (2001)
Last updated: June 25, 2003
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