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Advanced Exploration Systems Division

Advanced Electric Propulsion NextSTEP BAA Activity

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

The goal of the AES Advanced Electric Propulsion Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) activity is to develop and demonstrate high specific impulse (~2000 to ~5000 s range), high efficiency (greater than 60%), and high power (50 to 300 kW range) electric propulsion technology for long-duration, deep-space transportation systems. Three companies were awarded fixed price, milestone based contracts to mature and test high power Electric Propulsion (EP) systems to a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of 5.  The intent of these Advanced Propulsion NextSTEP BAA contracts will be to enable a public-private partnership for robust exploration and implementation of opportunities managed by NASA's HEOMD/AES Division.

This work is being led by three companies, Ad Astra, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and MSNW, LLC, that were competitively selected by NASA's HEOMD/AES Division in response to the NextSTEP BAA solicitation in the area of Advanced Propulsion. Each company was awarded a fixed price, milestone achievement based contract, with a one year base period and two one-year options. Also, each company was required as part of their proposal submittal to show a minimum 50% corporate contribution (made within the last five years) that was directly relevant to the Advanced Electric Propulsion NextSTEP BAA Activity.  Some of these prior, relevant corporate contributions are shown in the project library.  During the third year of these contracts, each contractor will demonstrate a 100 kW EP system for 100 continuous hours (at thermal steady-state). Specifically, Ad Astra will test a Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) EP system; Aerojet Rocketdyne will test a Nested Hall Thruster EP system; and MSNW, LCC will test an Electrodeless Lorentz Force (ELF) Thruster EP system.

These technology maturation and demonstration activities are focused on further development of high power EP engine technologies and includes the following objectives to be met by the end of these three year contract efforts:

  • The EP engine systems, including its Power Production Units (PPUs), if required, internal thermal control systems, and propellant management systems are to be at least TRL 5.
  • The EP engine system must demonstrate a minimum of 100 hours of continuous lifetime testing after reaching TRL 5 with the following operational constraints:
    • Maintain thermal steady state for the full 100 hours
    • Total system input power must be a minimum of 100 kW for the full 100 hours
    • Must be operated with at least TRL 5 PPU(s), if required.  If a Direct Drive power system is to be utilized, the EP engine system must be operated with the expected voltage and current profiles. The EP engine system must demonstrates its tolerance and performance with the full range of expected fluctuations in voltage and current.
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