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Center Innovation Fund: JSC CIF

Q-thruster Breadboard Campaign

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

JSC's Dr. Harold “Sonny” White has developed the physics theory basis for utilizing the quantum vacuum to produce thrust. The engineering implementation of the theory is known as Q-thruster. During FY13, three test campaigns were conducted that conclusively demonstrated tangible evidence of Q-thruster physics with measurable thrust bringing the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) from TRL 2 to early TRL 3. This project will continue with the development of the technology to a breadboard level by leveraging the most recent NASA/industry test hardware. This project will replace the manual tuning process used in the 2013 test campaign with an automated Radio Frequency (RF) Phase Lock Loop system (precursor to flight-like implementation), and will redesign the signal ports to minimize RF leakage (improves efficiency). This project will build on the 2013 test campaign using the above improvements on the test implementation to get ready for subsequent Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) testing at Glenn Research Center (GRC) and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in FY 2015. Q-thruster technology has a much higher thrust to power than current forms of electric propulsion (~7x Hall thrusters), and can significantly reduce the total power required for either Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) or Nuclear Electric Propulsion (NEP). Also, due to the high thrust and high specific impulse, Q-thruster technology will greatly relax the specific mass requirements for in-space nuclear reactor systems. Q-thrusters can reduce transit times for a power-constrained architecture.

Q-thruster technology is a mission enabling form of electric propulsion and is already being traded by NASA's Concept Architecture Team (CAT) & Human Space Flight (HSF) Architecture Team (HAT) as an electric propulsion effector for Asteroid Recovery Vehicle (ARV) mission extensibility options out to Mars.  The Nuclear Electric Propulsion mission allows for rapid transit while allowing for a heavy, more near-term reactor design and the Solar Electric Propulsion mission allows for a power starved approach with similar mission durations to Design Reference Architecture - DRA 5.0 that would not be possible without the Q-thruster technology.

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