May 14, 1999 Solar Electric Propulsion Set for Flight Demonstration
A solar electric propulsion system that could lead to cheaper in-space transportation is planned as the first flight experiment demonstration of NASA’s Future-X Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Future-X Program. Led by NASA’s Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio, the Hall-effect thruster system is one of seven Future-X flight experiments selected recently by NASA to help mold the future of space transportation. The engine will be integrated with a Russian Express A3 satellite, planned for launch in February 2000 from Baikonur, Kazakstan, on a Proton Expendable Launch Vehicle.
The 5 kilowatt Express/T-160E Hall Effect Thruster System will be the highest power Hall-effect thruster ever flown in space. On orbit, electrical energy from solar arrays is used in the thruster to create charged xenon gas particles that are then accelerated out of the engine by an electric field. These accelerated xenon particles create the thrust that propels the spacecraft. Solar electric propulsion systems offer high performance at low cost. The compact systems require much smaller propellant tanks than conventional chemical rockets, so there’s room for larger payloads. Applications of the technology include placing satellites into their final Earth orbit positions and adjusting satellites on orbit.
Fastrac Engine No. 2 Hot Fires Successfully
NASA successfully conducted the first test of the second Fastrac rocket engine in late April. Fastrac is a 60,000-pound thrust engine that will be used for the first powered flight of NASA’s X-34 technology demonstrator. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., designed and developed the Fastrac engine. The second engine is undergoing a series of full-engine, hot fire tests at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Miss. Engineers compare data from the first and second engines when the two engines – designed and built alike – are tested at full power. The first engine was tested at full power for the first time March 2; the second engine’s first test was April 24 and lasted 12 seconds.
Up to 85 system-level tests are planned for the new engine this year. Component testing of the turbopump, gas generator and other engine parts continues at the Marshall Center. Managed by Marshall’s Advanced Space Transportation Program, the Fastrac engine is significantly less expensive than similar engines because of an innovative design approach that uses commercial, off-the-shelf parts and common manufacturing methods.
Solar Thermal Propulsion Tests Conclude
Rocket engines that tap the Sun’s energy could dramatically reduce the cost of putting payloads, such as communications satellites, in orbit. A successful, four-year effort to mature technologies for solar thermal propulsion concluded last month at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Critical system components, such as a solar concentrator, an engine and a propellant storage and feed system, were designed, developed and ground tested. Most of the technologies had been demonstrated with tests of individual components, but this was the first time for them to be integrated and tested as a system. A large liquid hydrogen tank with an innovative feed system was tested at Marshall to simulate a 30-day solar thermal mission. Data gathered from the tests could have applications for missions to the Moon and Mars, as well as for boosting payloads to higher orbits. Test data indicates the technologies are mature enough to be demonstrated in a flight experiment.
Solar thermal propulsion systems would be less expensive, much simpler and more efficient than today’s rocket engines. The Sun’s energy is concentrated into an engine to heat propellant, which expands and produces thrust. The consortium that led the effort for the Aerospace Industry Technology Program’s Solar Thermal Upper Stage Technology Demonstrator included the Marshall Center; NASA’s Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio; the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.; The Boeing Co. of Huntington Beach, Calif.; United Applied Technologies of Huntsville; Thiokol Propulsion, a division of Cordant Technologies Inc. of Salt Lake City, Utah; and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
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Note to Editors/News Directors: Interviews and photos supporting the ASTP Media Update are available to media representatives by contacting June Malone of the Marshall Media Relations Office at (256) 544-0034. For an electronic version of the ASTP Media Update or more information, visit Marshall’s News Center on the Web: http://www.msfc.nasa.gov/news
For more information on the Advanced Space Transportation Program, visit its Web site: http://www.highway2space.com
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