The ability to capitalize on In Situ Resource Utilization for electric propulsion on next generation Exploration class missions has dramatic implications for mission success, scale, and cost. Electric propulsion enables the ability to perform Martian and NEO cargo and science missions at high specific impulse and therefore high payload fraction. At higher powers, EP enables rapid orbital transfer and reduced cost manned interplanetary missions. The ability to use Martian, Lunar, and NEO resources for return propellants and multiple mission profiles will reduce the required launch mass and propellant exponentially. The Adaptive Plasmoid Ejector is also lighter, highly scalable in both power and specific impulse, and can be tested at full power in existing facilities. The ELF-160A technology enables ISRU in-space propulsion from 10 kW – 10 MW at 2000-6000 seconds Isp on Any available propellant and has the potential to open up the solar system to low-cost interplanetary travel.
Modern lightweight solar panel technology, such as the DARPA FAST program, has created a unique need for lightweight, efficient, and highly variable power electric propulsion. The related ELF thruster technology is being developed by a DARPA SBIR to meet those needs. And while those programs are developing related pulsed power technologies they are focused entirely on Xenon propellants in order to maximize Thrust-to-Power. However, the ability to use complex propellants such as Air, Nitrogen, or Hydrazine would allow a dramatic shift in the capabilities of DOD spacecraft. An EP system operating at high specific impulse on Hydrazine could be retasked indefinitely between station keeping and rapid orbital maneuvers using a single propellant. Additionally, the ability to use ambient atmospheric gases would enable highly-eccentric orbits that use ambient Air for orbit raising and drag reduction for very low orbits. The ELF-160A thruster has definite payoffs for long-term military missions.