NASA's New Hall Thruster Passes Performance Testing
Sallie A. Keith|
Media Relations Office
August 23, 2005
Researchers at NASA's Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, successfully tested a new thruster that could make it easier and more cost effective to study our solar system.
The test involved a Hall thruster built under the High Voltage Hall Accelerator (HiVHAC) project. The HiVHAC thruster was designed and fabricated over the last year by a team from Glenn and Aerojet, Redmond, Wash., to operate efficiently over a wide range of input power levels.
The HiVHAC was tested in a vacuum chamber at Glenn that simulates the vacuum environment of space. The thruster was shown to operate successfully with input powers between 200 and 2900 watts at specific impulses (a measure of propellant fuel economy) between 1,000 and 2,800 seconds.
"This thruster has met all of our initial objectives," said Dave Manzella, the principle investigator of the HiVHAC project at Glenn. "It has great potential to open the door to using solar electric propulsion in deep space without adding significant weight or cost to the mission. Not only will it operate efficiently with a range of input powers but it is also significantly lighter, under three kilograms, and has fewer components than state-of-the-art technologies."
Hall thrusters generate thrust by accelerating electrically charged gas particles (ions). Ejecting these particles at high velocities in a focused direction pushes the spacecraft ahead. This propulsion technology will utilize the sun for its power. Solar energy for a given area decreases with distance from the sun. Low power operation is therefore important because it allows spacecraft to continue thrusting in space far from the sun, where there is little solar power available to be absorbed by a craft's solar arrays.
The thrust generated by this propulsion technology is much smaller than currently-used chemical alternatives. It is comparable to the force exerted by a sheet of paper resting on the palm of your hand. However, unlike chemical systems that may only burn for a few minutes, a solar electric propulsion engine can thrust continuously for years. Using this propulsion technology, velocities more than 10 times those possible with chemical systems can be achieved by spacecraft accelerating over a long period of time.
"We believe that the HiVHAC thruster will be an invaluable part of future planetary missions. While there is more work to be done before this technology is ready to fly, we are already excited about the performance and cost benefits being projected." said Tibor Kremic, Glenn's In-Space Propulsion program manager.
The next step for this technology will be to design and demonstrate the thruster's ability to achieve the long life necessary to reach outer destinations. The flight subsystems that support the thruster, such as the power processing unit, will also need to be developed.
The HiVHAC was developed through the In-Space Propulsion (ISP) technology development program. ISP is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Hunstville, Ala., on behalf of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
For images of the HiVHAC thruster on the Web, visit:
For information about NASA's In-Space Propulsion program on the Web, visit:
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