Press Release

Power and Propulsion Element: Five Questions with Maxar’s Tim Cole

By SpaceRef Editor
October 21, 2019
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Maxar Technologies successfully completed the System Requirements Review for the Power and Propulsion Element of the NASA-led Gateway, which is a core element of the Artemis program that will put the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 and enable future missions to Mars. As the first significant milestone in the program, the review enabled the Maxar and NASA teams to verify the functional and performance requirements for the spacecraft. 

We spoke with Tim Cole, Maxar’s Program Manager for the Power and Propulsion Element, about his role in developing the spacecraft and the latest updates on the program.

Maxar: What is your role on the Power and Propulsion Element?

Tim Cole: I am the Program Manager, which means I am a cross between head cheerleader and head coach. I am responsible for program performance across all disciplines, but I focus mostly on schedule and programmatics, as we have an incredibly strong technical team with Scott Tilley, Eddy Yee and Ty Lee leading technical direction and system engineering. The Power and Propulsion Element is a complex program with many moving parts, and my job is to make sure that all of the individual cogs are working together harmoniously so that we deliver a high-quality product on schedule. 

Maxar: How did you come to lead this program?

Tim Cole: I’ve managed many of Maxar’s innovative space infrastructure programs throughout my 36-year career at the company. I was the Program Manager on ABS-2, which launched in 2014 to provide high-power communications services and Sirius FM-6, which launched in 2013 to provide satellite radio. 

But most importantly, I was Maxar’s proposal manager for the Power and Propulsion Element. In this role, I leveraged my expertise in project management to deliver a winning proposal in response to NASA’s broad agency announcement for the program – a particularly innovative procurement mechanism for such a large and complex effort. With a broad agency announcement, individual companies craft their own unique solutions to meet the government’s objectives, rather than the government dictating its own solution. This enabled us to integrate some of our most powerful capabilities, including the superior commercial heritage of our 1300-class spacecraft and our expertise in solar electric propulsion.

Maxar: What does the Systems Requirements Review entail? Why is it important?

Tim Cole: The review took place over two days at Maxar’s facility in Palo Alto, California. The purpose of the review is to document and review all technical requirements for the Power and Propulsion Element with NASA. During the review, NASA and Maxar teams assessed the technical risk of the program and decided that we were ready to move forward with the preliminary design phase.  The requirements established and agreed upon by the teams during the review form the basis of several design solutions for the program.

Maxar: What are the key technological innovations that we’re tackling for the Power and Propulsion Element?

Tim Cole: The Power and Propulsion Element will use a modified version of Maxar’s  highly flexible 1300-class spacecraft platform, which has been proven over the course of decades in the commercial market and leverages our innovative mindset and commercial best practices. We’re also using the 1300-class for NASA’s Psyche mission to explore an all-metal asteroid and Restore-L project to refuel a satellite in orbit. NASA’s selection of Maxar for the Power and Propulsion Element  is a strong demonstration of the agency’s commitment to the commercialization of space and advancement of space exploration. 

The 1300-class platform that we’re building for the Power and Propulsion Element includes several cutting-edge technological innovations:

  • A groundbreaking, ultra-lightweight solar array system called Roll Out Solar Array (ROSA) will generate 60kW of electrical power — enough to support the highest power solar electric propulsion subsystem ever produced for a spacecraft and sustain the Gateway’s modules. ROSA is a mass-efficient, qualified technology that can be scaled up to 200kW for high-power operations and is available on all of Maxar’s spacecraft platforms;
  • Refueling interfaces will be incorporated to enhance mission operations as needed and extend Gateway life while on-orbit;
  • And an innovative communications network built into the Power and Propulsion Element will enable the Gateway to support communications from the Moon to Earth.

Furthermore, the Power and Propulsion Element will serve as a foundation for a major space transportation capability, supporting future missions to Mars. 


Maxar: How will the Power and Propulsion Element support future missions to Mars?

Tim Cole: The Power and Propulsion Element will be equipped with the most powerful commercial solar electric propulsion system ever launched. We believe that this cutting-edge electric propulsion technology will be essential to future missions to Mars, as it offers greater power, flexibility and efficiency than traditional chemical propulsion systems.  

Additionally, we believe that Gateway is the only architecture that can result in a sustainable human exploration program, since it establishes reusable infrastructure that will lower the cost and risk of ongoing operations. Spacecraft bound for Mars will be able to use this unique platform for refueling, maintenance and resupply – functions which are critical to sustained operations.

Maxar: What’s up next for the program? 

Tim Cole: Now that we’ve completed the Systems Requirements Review, the next major milestone is the Phase 0 System Safety Review, taking place in November. The Phase 0 System Safety review will help to ensure the spacecraft’s reliability and verify that the safety methodology that we’re implementing is robust and aligns with NASA’s expectations.  After that, we will host a Preliminary Design Review in February 2020 to verify that our Power and Propulsion Element design meets system requirements.

The Maxar team in Palo Alto is beyond excited to be chosen by NASA to build this critical element of the Gateway, and I have full confidence that we are well on our way to delivering a superb product.

SpaceRef staff editor.