Solar Electric Propulsion Makes NASA’s Psyche Spacecraft Go

NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is photographed in July 2021 during the mission’s assembly, test, and launch operations phase at JPL. Hall thrusters – two of which are visible beneath red round protective covers – will propel the spacecraft to its target in the main asteroid belt. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Futuristic electric thrusters emitting a cool blue glow will guide the Psyche spacecraft through deep space to a metal-rich asteroid.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When it comes time for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to power itself through deep space, it’ll be more brain than brawn that does the work. Once the stuff of science fiction, the efficient and quiet power of electric propulsion will provide the force that propels the Psyche spacecraft all the way to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The orbiter’s target: a metal-rich asteroid also called Psyche.

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Air Force Tasks Rhea Space Activity to Build Rapid-Response Lunar Communications Spacecraft

Rhea Scorpius Propulsive Burn (Credit: Rhea Space Activity)

RSA Investigates a Novel High-Thrust, High-Efficiency Propulsion System

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2021 (Rhea Space Activity PR) — As U.S. operations in space steadily move further away from Earth orbit, the rapidly growing ‘New Space’ company Rhea Space Activity (RSA) is pleased to announce that it has been selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) for a Phase I, Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) 2021 Space Force Pitch Day award to investigate a bi-modal, solar-thermal propulsion system that would provide rapid repositioning capabilities for a future United State Space Force (USSF) deep space communications spacecraft.

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ExoTerra, Virgin Orbit to Develop Solar Electric Upper Stage with NASA SBIR Funding

LauncherOne ignites after being dropped from Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

The solar electric propulsion upper stage opens a path to cis-lunar space, GEO, and beyond for Virgin Orbit’s small satellite customers

LITTLETON, Colo., June 1, 2021 (ExoTerra Resource PR) — NASA has awarded Littleton, CO-based ExoTerra Resource a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award for the firm’s solar electric propulsion upper stage, currently under development in partnership with California-based launch services provider Virgin Orbit.

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NASA Space Technology Budget Request Fact Sheet

NASA’s Psyche mission to a distant metal asteroid will carry a revolutionary Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package. This artist’s concept shows Psyche spacecraft with a five-panel array. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

NASA FACT SHEET
FY 2022 Budget Request
Space Technology
($ Millions)

The Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) develops transformative, cross-cutting technologies that lead to research and technology breakthroughs to enable NASA’s missions and is broadening its focus on cross-cutting space technologies that will support creating good jobs in a growing space industry.

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NASA Artemis Program Faces Significant Challenges on Human Lunar Landing in 2024

Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon. (Credits: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The combination of an ambitious schedule, technical challenges and immature technology will make it difficult for NASA to meet its goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, according to a new assessment by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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Zubrin’s Pioneer Astronautics Selected for NASA Grant to Develop Radiator-free Engine

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Bob Zubrin’s Pioneer Astronautics has been selected for a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to develop a radiator-free engine (RFE) that could be used in nuclear electric and solar thermal electric propulsion systems.

“In the RFE, cold water propellant or hydrogen used as the heat rejection dump for a dynamic cycle heated by a nuclear reactor, enabling Carnot efficiencies as high as 0.79 for water or 0.99 for hydrogen,” the proposal’s technical abstract said. “Some of the propellant that is boiled or sublimated off is then sent to an electric propulsion system, which ejects it from the spacecraft at high velocities to produce thrust….

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COVID-19 Delays to Cost NASA $3 Billion

High-resolution illustration of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope against a starry background. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will cost NASA an estimated $3 billion due to program delays, according to a report from the space agency’s Office of Inspector General.

The report focused on the pandemic’s impact on 30 major programs and project with life-cycle costs of at least $250 million.

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Firefly Research Receives NASA SBIR Award for Solar Electric Space Unity Vehicle

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has selected the research arm of Firefly Aerospace for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award to develop a solar electric transfer stage capable of taking payloads from the Earth to the moon.

“Firefly Research, LLC (FFR) is pleased to propose to NASA the development of a Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) to a CDR [critical design review] level of fidelity,” the technical abstract said. “This vehicle serves as a solar electric transfer stage, offering enough Delta-V to transfer more than 500 kg of payload from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO) after launch on a small lift launch vehicle.

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New Space Tech Research Institutes to Advance Electric Propulsion, Entry Systems

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Technology drives exploration, and as NASA eyes deep-space human exploration, technology is at the forefront of its plans. Preparing for these missions requires technology development within the agency and research by external experts in various fields.

As part of this effort, NASA will establish two new university-led Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs), which will join four already active institutes. The new STRIs will bring together researchers from different disciplines and organizations to tackle challenges associated with electric propulsion ground testing and atmospheric entry systems modeling. The new STRIs aim to advance these game-changing technologies for exploring the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

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Maxar and Busek Thruster System for NASA Lunar Gateway Passes Critical Milestone

Concept art of Maxar’s Power and Propulsion Element with six Hall effect thrusters. (Credit: Maxar Technologies)

NATICK, Mass., March 18, 2021 (Busek Co. PR) — Busek Co., a developer of high-performance electric propulsion technology for space applications, and Maxar Technologies (NYSE: MAXR) (TSX: MAXR), a trusted partner and innovator in Earth intelligence and Space Infrastructure, confirmed today the successful completion of an end-to-end hot fire test campaign validating all major elements of the 6-kilowatt solar electric propulsion (SEP) subsystem for the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) of NASA’s Gateway in lunar orbit.

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GAO: NASA Performance on Major Projects Continues to Deteriorate

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of NASA’s major projects at the end of April. It found that NASA’s performance on its major projects continued to deteriorate on cost and schedule. (Full Report)

Below are key excerpts from the report that provide an overview of where NASA stands on its major projects. Although GAO did not analyze the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon, the watchdog warned the Trump Administration’s decision to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024 will put more pressure on the space agency.

“Looking ahead, NASA will continue to face significant cost and schedule risks as it undertakes complex efforts to return to the moon under an aggressive time frame,” the report stated.

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NASA Seeks Information from Potential Partners for a Solar Electric Propulsion Flight Demonstration

Advanced solar electric propulsion will be needed for future human expeditions into deep space, including to Mars. Shown here is a 13-kilowatt Hall thruster being evaluated at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. Hall thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and use them to ionize the onboard propellant. It uses 10 times less propellant than equivalent chemical rockets. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate released a Request for Information (RFI) to potential partners for a technology demonstration of advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP) technology on Aug. 8, with responses due by Sept. 8, 2017.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne Tests Advanced Electric Propulsion System

SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 06, 2017 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc., a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), successfully conducted a series of hot-fire tests on a Power Processing Unit (PPU) for an Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) designed to advance the nation’s commercial space capabilities as well as support NASA’s plans for deep space exploration. The tests were conducted at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

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NASA Space Technology Year in Review

Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)
Mars 2020 Lander Vision System flight tested aboard a Masten “Xombie” up to 1,066 feet on December 9, 2014 at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. (Credits: NASA Photo / Tom Tschida)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is dedicated to pushing the technological envelope, taking on challenges not only to further space agency missions near Earth, but also to sustain future deep space exploration activities.

“In 2016, we completed several major program milestones,” explains Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate administrator for STMD.

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