Date: Thursday, July 29, 2004 @ 22:37:48 GMT
Topic: Science

Michael Braukus
Headquarters, Washington (Phone: 202/358-1979)
July 29, 2004 /RELEASE: c04-p

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 million.

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:

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