Press Release

NASA Selects Teams to lead Development of Advanced technology for Future In-space Propulsion Applications

By SpaceRef Editor
August 30, 2002
Filed under ,

In the future, NASA’s fleet of robotic spacecraft might cruise
among the planets like sailboats in space, or perhaps they will be
propelled from planet to planet by advanced ion engines.

NASA’s Office of Space Science in Washington announced today that
those technologies and other advanced propulsion ideas have been
selected for development as part of a suite of in-space propulsion
technologies. Development of these technologies will provide giant
steps in capability for NASA to conduct future planetary missions,
especially to the outer planets of Jupiter and beyond.

“NASA has invested in the development of a set of multiple
technology paths for future propulsion systems that will enable
new, exciting classes of planetary exploration missions,” said
Paul Wercinski, In-Space Propulsion (ISP) Program Executive in the
Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington. The
awards, part of the ISP Program, cover four propulsion technology
areas: Aerocapture, High-Power Electric Propulsion for Nuclear
Systems, Power Conversion Technologies for Nuclear Electric
Propulsion, and Solar Sails.

For Aerocapture, the following Principal Investigators (PIs) have
been selected: Timothy Collins (NASA Langley Research Center
(LaRC), Hampton Va.)–‘High temperature composite structures’;
William Congdon (ARA Inc., Englewood, Colo.)–‘Light-weight
Thermal Protection System ablators’; Bernard Laub (NASA Ames
Research Center (ARC), Moffett Field, Calif.)–‘Characterization
of Advanced Thermal Protection Systems’; Kevin Miller (Ball
Aerospace, Boulder, Colo.)–‘Ballute analysis and development’; KR
Sridhar (ELORET Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif.)–‘Advanced TP
Instrumentation’; William Willcockson (Lockheed Martin
Astronautics, Denver)–‘Aeroshell System Development and

For Electric Propulsion, the following PIs have been selected:
Mark Cappelli (Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.)–
‘Development of a Two-Stage Bismuth Hall thruster’; James Polk
(NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.)–
‘Development of a 65 cm, 20 kW, Xenon ion thruster’; Vincent
Rawlin (NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC), Cleveland)–‘Development
of a 50 cm, 25 kW Xenon ion thruster.’

For Power Conversion, the following PIs have been selected: Jack
Mondt (JPL)–‘Segmented thermoelectric multicouple Space Reactor
Power System’; Richard Rovang (Boeing Rocketdyne, Canoga Park,
Calif.)–‘Brayton Power Conversion System’; Graydon Yoder (Oak
Ridge National Lab, Oak Ridge, Tenn.)’Potassium Rankine cycle
Power Conversion System.’

For Solar Sails, the following PIs have been selected: David
Lichodziejewski (L’Garde Inc., Tustin, Calif.)–‘Development of a
Striped-Net sail and Inflatable boom model’; David Murphy (Able
Engineering, Goleta, Calif.)–‘Development of a CP1 sail and
Coilable boom model’; Bobby Williams (JPL), ‘Development of an
integrated set of solar sail simulation tools.’

Beginning in fiscal year 2003, the propulsion technologies unique
to nuclear power systems will be managed under NASA’s Nuclear
Systems Initiative (NSI), including the High-Power Electric
Propulsion (EP) and Power Conversion (PC) technologies.

The total anticipated budget for High-Power EP and PC in fiscal
2002 is $1 million, $16 million in fiscal 2003, and $16 million in
fiscal 2004, contingent on budget approval. Total anticipated
budget for proposed work in the Aerocapture and Solar Sail areas
under the ISP program in fiscal 2002 is $2 million, $17 million in
fiscal 2003, and $18 million in fiscal 2004, contingent on budget

Aerocapture uses a planet’s atmosphere rather than an onboard
propulsion system to slow a spacecraft to capture into orbit about
a planet. Using the analogy of a high performance racecar, the
ability to slow down or stop is just as critical as going fast,

which is what aerocapture provides. The subsequent reduction in
fuel load for this braking maneuver enables long-term orbital
missions, rather than traditional planetary fly-bys.

Nuclear electric propulsion — or the use of nuclear reactors to
generate heat, which is converted into electrical power for high-
performance electric thrusters — has the potential to greatly
improve the capability, sophistication and reach of future science
missions. The development of high power thrusters and power
conversion systems are critical components to enable future
nuclear-electric propulsion systems.

Solar sails, consisting of thin, lightweight membranes, could be
propelled through space by sunlight, much as wind pushes sailboats
here on Earth. This lightweight, propellantless alternative to
heavy, onboard propulsion systems allows spacecraft to travel to
distant locations at reduced costs.

The ISP Program is managed by the Office of Space Science, NASA
Headquarters, Washington, and is implemented by the Marshall Space
Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. The NSI is managed by the Office
of Space Science at NASA Headquarters, and the power conversion
and electric propulsion awards of NSI will be implemented by
NASA’s GRC. The ISP Program is supported by NASA’s ARC; GRC; JPL;
Johnson Space Center, Houston; and LaRC. NASA’s partners in
meeting the ambitious in-space propulsion goals include industry,
the nation’s academic institutions and other government agencies.

SpaceRef staff editor.