Spaceflight Insider

NASA taps Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop Hall electric propulsion system

Xenon Hall Thruster Aerojet Rocketdyne photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Xenon Hall Thruster. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

NASA has awarded a $2.5 million contract to California-based Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop the high-power electric “Hall Thruster” propulsion system. It is hoped that these thrusters could be used on crewed deep space missions which NASA is working to carry out in the coming decades.

With plans to have astronauts venture into lunar orbit to carry out the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) sometime in the middle of the next decade and a crewed mission to Mars eyed in the 2030s, the U.S. space agency is investing in new systems and technologies to ignite a new era in human exploration.

“Under the contract, the Aerojet Rocketdyne team will complete the development of a 100-kilowatt Hall Thruster System, including a thruster that is capable of operating at up to 250 kilowatts, using Aerojet Rocketdyne’s patented multi-channel Nested Hall Thruster technology. [The thruster is capable of operating at 250 kW but will be demonstrated in the system at 100 kW for 100 hours],” Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Glenn Mahone told SpaceFlight Insider.

Aerojet Rocketdyne has the patent on the multi-channel Nested Hall Thruster technology – but it won’t be working on this particular effort alone. The aerospace firm will work alongside the University of Michigan, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Silicon Turnkey Solutions.

The contract is planned to last for a year – with two, two-year extensions, worth an additional $4 million total, also being possible.

“We look forward to working with our teammates in the development of this high-power, high-efficiency propulsion technology,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space and Launch Systems at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Our advanced Nested Hall Thruster system will help transform the future of human spaceflight, allowing cost-effective delivery of large cargo to support human missions to Mars, and potentially transport astronauts to their destination faster, more efficiently and at a more cost-effective price.”

Twelve teams have been selected by NASA to assist in the development of systems which will be used to restart crewed deep space exploration efforts. Carried out under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) initiative, the teams were chosen for their particular technical capabilities.

NASA has already invested an estimated $12 million in developing technologies that the agency will need if it is to send astronauts to the Red Planet.

According to a release issued by the company, current electric propulsion systems operate using 5 kilowatts of power or less. However, initiatives are underway to develop systems that would utilize between 20 to 50 kilowatts. One mission, in particular, NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission, which could launch as soon as 2023, would benefit from these systems.

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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Reader Comments

Instead of spending all that money on the outdated SLS I wish they had spent it on developing a real spaceship with artificial gravity through a rotating torus and developing Hall thrusters for such a vehicle and some kind of energy source to power them. The trick is to get to Mars as soon as possible so as to cut down on radiation exposure. Franklin Chang Diaz has said he could get to Mars in 39 days using his Vasimr thrusters. Such a ship could be used over and over and remain in orbit and never land on planet. That way the great expense of building it could be recouped over time through reuse.

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