Upgraded XR-5 Thruster Successfully Tested on X-37 Space Plane

Upgraded XR-5A Hall thruster (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
Upgraded XR-5A Hall thruster (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 1, 2015 – Aerojet Rocketdyne’s (NYSE:AJRD) improved XR-5 Hall Thruster (designated XR-5A) has successfully completed initial on-orbit validation testing on the unmanned X-37 space plane, which is presently on its fourth mission in space. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office collaborated to host the XR-5A Hall Thruster experiment on Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4.

The XR-5A Hall Thruster is an enhanced version of the Aerojet Rocketdyne XR-5 Hall Thruster. Both thrusters are five kilowatt class Hall Thrusters; however, the XR-5A incorporates modifications that improve performance and operating range. Aerojet Rocketdyne has manufactured and delivered 16 XR-5 Hall Thrusters and flown 12 to date. As with most new product introductions, Aerojet Rocketdyne is introducing a product upgrade to incorporate improvements identified after the initial low-rate production and flight programs.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has received orders for 64 flight thrusters to date and anticipates a strong future production for both commercial and government markets.

“The GEO Comsat market has embraced the use of five kilowatt Hall Thrusters, and Aerojet Rocketdyne not only has the only flight-proven five kilowatt Hall Thruster, we now have the only flight-tested, second-generation five kilowatt Hall Thruster,” said Eileen Drake, chief executive officer and president at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Satellite customers are very risk adverse, as many GEO Comsats have operational lives exceeding 15 years. So we are very pleased to bring a second generation product to market that provides our customers with that higher level of reliability and confidence.”

The new XR-5A maintains the majority of the design and flight heritage from the original XR-5, with only minimal modifications. The only two changes to the thruster are the outer pole extending around the cathode, and a modification of the cathode position.

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

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The X-37’s duty cycle is absolutely pioneering what they’ve been doing with it the past few years. In that program are known procedures, operations, and technical experience for a shuttle that can stay up for months, get turned around, fly again, and do it for months again, then come down again …. Wow.

  • Paul_Scutts

    I wonder how it’s turnaround time and refurbishment requirements compare with the original space shuttle (excluding main engines, of course)?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’ll bet it’s much less. But we can’t infer from the launch rate. There are two active orbiters. Since they stay on station for over a year, and launch with approx 6 to 8 month gaps, I don’t know how we could back out the refurb time out of that. Too bad X-37 was not scaled up to be a COTS ferry.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Thanks for your reply, Andrew. It is a shame that being a pure military program everything is hush hush. The reason I asked was to try and get a handle on the likely performance of Dream Chaser, if or when SNC are able to develop the vehicle. Just have to hope and see. Regards, Paul.

  • patb2009

    the only way to get the launch rate would be if the USAF were to state publically what the turnaround time is. I suspect it’s fairly short. X-37B doesn’t have a complex propulsion system, I suspect it uses advanced TPS, and it’s TPS is properly sized unlike STS, it seems to come back with all the tiles intact. It stays up for a year, so it’s not likely running Fuel cells but has a solar panel. It probably has an APU, so that needs some servicing, and you want to check out the de-orbit system, but if it takes 30 days, i’d call that a steady measured pace.

  • patb2009

    radically different bird.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Agreed. It seems as if it might just be a excellent system. Let’s hope it comes out from the dark soon and it’s subsystems and operations techniques work their way into American spaceflight.

  • DTARS

    My 30 plus person reusable dream rocket

    X-37 D or E on 3 falcon Heavy first stage boosters

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    As a pilot I can understand the desire to land people and cargo on a runway like a member of the civilized industrialized world, and not use some savage unguided desperate scheme that uses a parachute. Parachutes are for an emergency. However when it comes to spaceflight, we are savages, and we are desperate, and we are primitive. Consider that X-37 is launched under a faring. That’s because the aerodynamics get a lot simpler and avoid the drag of hauling a winged vehicle up through the atmosphere. Worse yet those wings are on the wrong side of the CG. If Earth were a few hundred km smaller in radius, the energy release and mass ratios of chemical fuels might give enough impulse to do what you propose and make it worth it. It’s going to be a while before we start making such extravagant cargo containers again.