Press Release

Advanced Electric Propulsion Technologies R&D Teams Selected by NASA

By SpaceRef Editor
July 30, 2004
Filed under , ,
Advanced Electric Propulsion Technologies R&D Teams Selected by NASA

NASA announced the selection of one industry- and one
academic-led team to conduct advanced electric-propulsion
technologies research in support of the Vision for Space
Exploration. The advanced electric-propulsion technologies
program is part of Project Prometheus, within NASA’s
Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Total value of the
work to be done over a three-year period is approximately $7

Northrop Grumman Space Technology, Redondo Beach, Calif., has
been selected to develop a nuclear-electric pulsed inductive
thruster system. This award is valued at approximately $3
million to be performed over a two-and-a-half-year period.

Princeton University, Princeton, N.J., has been selected for
an approximately $4 million contract, with work to be
performed over three years, to advance the technologies of a
lithium-fed magnetoplasmadynamic thruster system.

“Developing and demonstrating advanced propulsion capabilities
that could support human and robotic exploration of Mars and
other solar system destinations is an important Vision
objective,” said Ray Taylor, Acting Deputy Director of Project
Prometheus, NASA Headquarters. “These advanced-electric
propulsion technologies, once developed and proven, would help
enable a new class of ambitious robotic and human exploration
missions not possible with existing propulsion technologies.”

John Warren, Program Executive for Nuclear Propulsion and
Spacecraft Systems, Project Prometheus added, “Our goal is to
advance the development of advanced, very high power electric-
propulsion thruster technologies that could lead to higher-
performance systems that are lighter, simpler, more reliable
and/or less costly than comparable state of the art systems.
This technology is expected to be evolvable to the larger
megawatt power levels that would likely be needed for future
human exploration missions.”

The thruster Northrop Grumman will develop will be capable of
sustained operation at a power level of 200 kilowatts and an
efficiency of 70 percent or higher while retaining a specific
impulse range between 3000 and 10,000 seconds. Successful
development will provide a compact thruster, with a specific
mass of approximately two-to-three kilograms/kilowatt that
would be enabling for many NASA interplanetary missions.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, and Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., as well as Arizona State
University, Tempe, Ariz., will be making valuable
contributions to this effort.

Princeton University’s successful development of the lithium-
fed thruster system would provide significant performance
gains over state-of-the-art applied-field magnetoplasmadynamic
thrusters. The lithium thruster is a compact design optimized
to operate at a power level of 240 kilowatts, efficiencies of
greater than 60 percent, and a specific impulse of 6200
seconds. This work will be performed in conjunction with
NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., in addition to
the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., and the
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Mass.

Each award covers a base and two or three performance periods.
Continued support from one period to the next is contingent on
program need, availability of funds and each team’s ability to
meet proposed milestones.

For more information about Project Prometheus on the Internet,
please visit:

For more information about NASA on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.