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.

NASA has been developing advanced SEP technologies in the form of large, lightweight solar arrays, and an electric propulsion system that includes a 13-kilowatt Hall Effect thruster with magnetic shielding, a power processing unit and a xenon flow controller.

NASA is interested in a commercial or other government agency partnership for a potential flight demonstration of these advanced SEP technologies, and in particular, the 13-kilowatt electric propulsion system. Under an existing contract, NASA expects to complete the development and qualification of the electric propulsion system by 2019.

NASA would like to see a flight demonstration that employs one or several of these electric propulsion systems as soon as possible following ground qualification. An objective of the flight demonstration is to operate one or more of the electric propulsion systems in the space environment for extended periods of time. The inclusion of the advanced solar array technology that is extensible to deep space NASA missions would also be highly desirable.

In a potential partnership, NASA would provide the electric propulsion system for the flight demonstration at no cost. NASA seeks a partner that could provide a spacecraft and launch for the demonstration at a minimal, or preferably no additional, cost to NASA. The partner is expected to share all flight data relevant to the performance of the SEP system and its interactions with other spacecraft elements and systems, and they can utilize the spacecraft and mission for their own additional commercial, scientific, or government purposes.

SEP technology is expected to benefit activities in cislunar space, human missions to Mars, and highly-capable science missions. The advanced SEP technology could also provide more affordable primary power and highly efficient orbit transfer and station-keeping capabilities for commercial space missions.

The SEP flight demonstration that is the subject of this RFI would be intended to provide an early demonstration to promote more rapid commercial infusion of the technology.  Another potential benefit to NASA would be the additional reduction of technical risk for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway concept and other applications in deep space by demonstrating the SEP technology in advance.

The Solar Electric Propulsion project is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

The Solar Electric Propulsion Flight Demonstration Partnership RFI can be found here.

For more information about NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, visit: