NASA Selects Aerojet Rocketdyne for Advanced Deep Space Propulsion

aerojet_rocketdyne
SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 23, 2015 (Aeojet Rocketdyne PR) – Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, 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.

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.

“Our high-power Nested Hall Thruster system will provide the best path in the development of faster transportation to the moon, Mars and beyond,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space and Launch Systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “When it comes to cargo and crew transportation, our advanced propulsion system will dramatically decrease the trip times and cost of human exploration.”

Roger Myers, executive director for Advanced In-Space Programs, said, “Our unique flight experience with 5‑kilowatt Hall Thruster systems enables us to efficiently develop these very high-power, scalable solar electric propulsion systems. There are many applications for these systems, including new government and commercial missions that will benefit from high power, fast trip times.”

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.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader providing propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. GenCorp is a diversified company that provides innovative solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense, and real estate markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne and GenCorp can be obtained by visiting the companies’ websites at www.Rocket.com and www.GenCorp.com.

  • Aerospike

    Hmm, how do you build a 100 kW system using a 250 kW thruster? Simply running it at the reduced power level provided by the PPU?

  • Ruri Hoshino

    High power electric propulsion can revolutionize deep space travel if coupled to a suitable power source.

  • Doug Weathers

    Maybe it takes 250 kW of power to make 100 kW of thrust? In other words, it’s 40% efficient.

  • DavidR2015

    The only really suitable power sources are solar and lightweight fusion. Lightweight fusion, is probably 50 years away, and solar is likely limited to a few megawatts. (If you are happy to have quite a slow accelerating rocket, then you can mount quite large solar arrays on it).
    These increases in power are all steps in the right direction.
    We may be able to use thermal nuclear reactors aswell, but these are likely to be heavy to to the amount of radiation shielding they would need. One solution is to mount the reactor on a long truss, and keep it tens of metres away from the rest of the ship in order to reduce the amount of shielding required. There is also a political aspect to placing a nuclear reactor on a rocket and launching it into space, people worry about fallout if the rocket malfunctions.

  • DavidR2015

    AFAIK running a higher power thruster is more fuel efficient for a given thrust. So if you have a 100kW solar array, you will use less fuel if you use it to power a 250kW thruster running 40% of the time. The fuel efficiency gain can, with a good design, more than offset the weight of the batteries required to store the energy.

  • DavidR2015

    Some competition for VASIMR. Good to see that NASA is:
    a) Investing in ion drive technology.
    b) Not putting all its eggs in one basket.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    What is “lightweight fusion” ?. I don’t know of any other fusion energy projects with a greater than zero chance of yielding a viable power producing machine, let alone a lightweight machine. I wouldn’t expect any net energy fusion generators this side of 500+ years (with the possible exception of Focus Fusion).
    “We may be able to use thermal nuclear reactors aswell, but these are likely to be heavy due to the amount of radiation shielding they would need.”
    Neutron energies of fusion far exceed those of fission reactions, so don’t go expecting fusion to be light on shielding. Also, fusion generators will not be as compact, or lightweight, as fission generators. In common with fission reactors, fusion reactors are also “thermal nuclear” and require the same sort of turbine plant to generate electricity (again, Focus Fusion is the exception).

    Next gen fission reactors will likely find both political and public acceptability, but it’s unlikely that we’ll see a fission electricity generator powering a spacecraft within fifty years. Solar electric will be the only technologically, politically or economically plausible option for the next several decades.

  • Snofru Chufu

    I think you are wrong; your “data base” might be not updated, it will not take such long time. So far I know significant advances in fusion technology were made (output to input energy ration, duration time of operation). I refer to Robert Bussard’s work and the Polywell (inertial electrostatic confinement) approach. These fusion devices will be very light (even applicable to spacecrafts), if one times successful. I think present major problems are the reduction of losses by produced Bremsstrahlung and by thermalization of the plasma. A good position to earn honour and fame as a future PhD student.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell#Criticism

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I am familiar with Bussard’s Polywell. Thus far it has not worked and I do not believe it will ever work. The idea of externally applied confinement is as flawed here as is the magnetic confinement of the tokamak.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Why set you in the position to make such a judgement?

  • Christopher James Huff

    A Polywell would need to be at least 1.5 meters across to break even, with the efficiency limitations that come with practical spacecraft radiators you’ll realistically need something larger. It would additionally need cryogenics for the superconducting coils, a lithium blanket to breed tritium fuel, additional blankets of neutron absorbing material to produce heat for power conversion, and so on. “Lightweight fusion reactor” is an oxymoron, fusion reactors are not going to be lightweight, and they will have a minimum useful scale much larger than the smallest useful fission reactors.

  • Christopher James Huff

    The Polywell has thus far worked just fine. It just isn’t going to be something that’ll scale down to power a spacecraft.

  • Christopher James Huff

    If there’s a minimum mass flow rate, this may be the case. Depending on the rate at which the thruster can turn on and off, they may not need much energy storage, and might make do with a simple capacitor bank. It may also simply be that they sized the thruster to allow future expansion.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Yes, it seems not dead, in contrast it looks quite alive.

    http://research.microsoft.com/apps/video/default.aspx?id=238715&r=1

    http://www.thepolywellblog.com/

    Christopher, I learned from Dr. Bussard that the Polywell design is ideal for spacecraft propulsion. I do not mean satellites. l am talking about large and fast spacecraft, which are able to transport a crew in some month to Titan. I assume you know the following presensation already (do not forget, Bussard was space flight caded, what was a major motivation for his engagement to build the Polywell reactor type.

    http://www.google.de/imgres?imgurl=http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2256/2050937848_fd7e8c872f_o.jpg&imgrefurl=http://nextbigfuture.com/2007/11/fusion-propulsion-if-bussard-iec-fusion.html&h=613&w=902&tbnid=DLiFItDBuLXg7M:&zoom=1&tbnh=90&tbnw=132&usg=__KfO-l3WmuxW82yiySUAEPtU60Xg=&docid=OXKU2fq1JRdzCM

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “The Polywell has thus far worked just fine.”
    In what way?. What efficiency has so far been achieved?.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “… I am quite sure the future of Bussard’s Polywell is independent from your personal believes.”
    Quite so. I was thinking more in terms of plasma instability confinement, temperature of the plasma, time of confinement and density of confinement.

  • Snofru Chufu

    You may think about the meaning of a sample of techncial phrases, whereas other people solve the problems. Let see what will happen.

  • Aerospike

    I was thinking that maybe running a thruster at a level significantly below the design power level, one might loose efficiency.
    I did not think about running at full power but for a shorter amount of time. This is of course an option – depending on some of the aspects @cjameshuff:disqus mentioned above.

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