SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Aerojet Rocketdyne has been selected by the NASA Advanced Exploration Systems Division to start negotiations for a contract to design and demonstrate an advanced propulsion system that would enable human spaceflight to cislunar space and beyond to Mars.
Aerojet Rocketdyne working on avanced propulsion
Under the first phase of the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne would complete the development of a 100-kilowatt Hall Thruster System, including its patented 250kW multi-channel Nested Hall Thruster (NHT), a 100-kilowatt modular Power Processing Unit (PPU), and critical elements of the modular feed system. PPUs convert the electrical power generated by a spacecraft's solar arrays into the power needed for the Hall Thruster. The contract includes options for system integration testing, and culminates with a 100-hour test of the 100-kilowatt system.
As part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP), NASA recently announced Aerojet Rocketdyne as one of 12 new industry partnerships to help build space and human exploration capabilities for cislunar space and Mars missions, and for work at the International Space Station. The commercial partners were selected for their technical ability to mature key technologies and their commitment to the potential applications, both for government and private sector uses, according to NASA.
Current electric propulsion systems operate at 5 kilowatts or below, and there are plans for near-term spacecraft using between 20 to 40 kilowatts, such as NASA's Asteroid Re-direct Mission (ARM). Much higher powers, such as the scalable 100-kilowatt systems being developed on this program, are required for transportation of the large payloads envisioned for human exploration missions.
Electric propulsion can significantly save weight for space missions, since it does not require a large store of chemical propellant. This is important for commercial missions to save money, but can be even more vital for long distance human exploration missions, where it is extremely important to save weight on propulsion so there is more capacity for life support and other equipment.