NASA Develops Miniature Electric Propulsion System for Small Spacecraft Planetary Exploration

NASA unveils NGHT-1X, a miniature electric propulsion system that enables cost-effective planetary exploration using small spacecraft, transforming space missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

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Safak Costu
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NASA Develops Miniature Electric Propulsion System for Small Spacecraft Planetary Exploration

NASA Develops Miniature Electric Propulsion System for Small Spacecraft Planetary Exploration

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has unveiled a new miniature electric propulsion system called the NGHT-1X, designed to enable future planetary missions using small spacecraft. The advanced propulsion technology, based on the NASA-H71M Hall-effect thruster, aims to push the limits of sub-kilowatt electric propulsion capabilities.

The NGHT-1X is anticipated to facilitate a wide range of planetary exploration and commercial mission concepts by providing efficient and cost-effective propulsion solutions for small spacecraft. This technology will allow small spacecraft to independently maneuver from low Earth orbit to the Moon or even from geosynchronous transfer orbit to Mars, increasing the frequency and reducing the cost of lunar and Mars science missions.

According to NASA, the miniature electric propulsion system can execute high delta-V maneuvers required for planetary science missions, such as achieving planetary escape velocities and orbit capture. The successful commercialization of this thruster will provide a solution for the next generation of small spacecraft science missions requiring up to 8 km/s of delta-V.

Why this matters: The development of the NGHT-1X miniature electric propulsion system signifies a notable advancement in enabling cost-effective and efficient planetary exploration using small spacecraft. This technology has the potential to transform the way we conduct scientific missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, opening up new opportunities for discovery and expanding our understanding of the solar system.

NASA is partnering with companies like SpaceLogistics, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, to use this licensed electric propulsion technology in commercial small spacecraft applications. One such application is the Mission Extension Pod satellite servicing vehicle, which will extend the life of geosynchronous communication. This collaboration supports U.S. industry's leadership in commercial space systems and creates new opportunities for NASA to acquire these important technologies as planetary missions require them.

The NASA-H71M subkilowatt Hall effect thruster, developed at NASA's Glenn Research Center, is being prepared for use to extend the life of spacecraft already in orbit. "This propulsion capability will also allow secondary spacecraft to substantially deviate from primary mission trajectories and enable deceleration and orbital insertion for long-term scientific studies," NASA stated. The technology is more advanced than the low-power Hall effect thrusters used in commercial megaconstellations, with the ability to operate for 15,000 hours and process more than 30% of a small spacecraft's initial mass into propellant.

Key Takeaways

  • NASA unveils NGHT-1X, a miniature electric propulsion system for small spacecraft.
  • NGHT-1X enables cost-effective planetary exploration and commercial missions using small craft.
  • NGHT-1X allows small spacecraft to maneuver from low Earth orbit to the Moon or Mars.
  • NASA partners with companies to commercialize the NGHT-1X technology for satellite servicing.
  • The NASA-H71M thruster can extend spacecraft life and enable long-term scientific studies.