NEXT-C electric propulsion engine poised for production
The NEXT-C ion propulsion engine has successfully completed a Critical Design Review conducted by NASA and is planned for use on the agency’s 2021 DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission. With the CDR finished, the next step in the process should be the production of actual flight units.
NEXT-C stands for NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster-Commercial and was developed by the space agency and commercialized by Aerojet Rocketdyne.
“Serving as the primary propulsion source for DART, NEXT-C will establish a precedent for future use of electric propulsion to enable ambitious future science missions,” said Eileen Drake, CEO and President of Aerojet Rocketdyne via a company-issued release. “Electric propulsion reduces overall mission cost without sacrificing reliability or mission success.”
NEXT-C is described as having an estimated 7kW of maximum power and more than 4100s specific impulse (Isp). This level of Isp could make NEXT-C a good fit to be the propulsion system for missions deep into our Solar System.
DART is being spear-headed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on behalf of NASA and is somewhat similar to the agency’s 2005 Deep Impact expedition. As it is currently envisioned, DART will collide with a moonlet in orbit above the Didymos asteroid. It is hoped that, if successful, DART will slightly alter the asteroid’s orbit. Mission planners are hoping that DART will provide data that could one day be used to divert objects that pose a threat of striking Earth.
In terms of NEXT-C, the initiative is part of a cost-sharing arrangement between NASA’s Science Mission Directorate working out of the space agency’s Glenn Research Center and Aerojet Rocketdyne. The system is an electric propulsion and power processing unit which might be used on future NASA missions.
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.