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“The goal is to get as many of the wrong ideas out of the way as early as possible.
“So we’ll come up with some idea, especially on the research side, and sometimes it will seem really brilliant on the napkin or in a conversation with one other person.
“[When I started working on electric aircraft propulsion,] I was not familiar with all of the electrical ins and outs. I thought power would just be available, and I could use it when I wanted it. [Our concepts had] all these little hiccups — how they get integrated in the real system, how the battery systems are going to interplay, and all the extra safety things that we need to consider—they allowed us to figure out things a little bit earlier and [give us] a broader perspective.
“The key thing is that when you’re working on something that’s really hard, I think the whole expectation is that you’re going to fail. So we try to fail as many times as we can early on. So when we’re getting closer to an actual demonstration, we’re pretty confident that at that point, we’ve talked to the right people, everyone’s on board, and we’re going to have a safe, larger test campaign.
“It’s always better to fail earlier on and learn as much as you can.”
— Joe Connolly, Deputy for Electrified Aircraft Propulsion Integration, Glenn Research Center
Image Credit: NASA / Jef Janis
Interviewer: NASA / Thalia Patrinos
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True Blue: High-Power Propulsion for Gateway
Credit: NASA/Jef Janis. The blue hue of the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) is seen inside a vacuum chamber at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland during recent thruster qualification testing. This 12-kilowatt Hall thruster is the most powerful electric propulsion thruster in production, and it will be critical to future science and exploration missions at the Moon and beyond.
The blue plume is a steady stream of ionized xenon gas ejected to produce low, highly efficient thrust. These electric propulsion systems accelerate spacecraft to extremely high speeds over time using only a fraction of the fuel chemical propulsion systems require, making electric propulsion an excellent choice for deep-space exploration and science missions.
Three AEPS thrusters will be mounted on the Power and Propulsion Element, a foundational component of Gateway. The small lunar space station is critical to the agency’s Artemis missions that will help prepare for human missions to Mars. The Power and Propulsion Element will provide Gateway with power, high-rate communications, and allow it to maintain its unique orbit around the Moon.
The AEPS thruster recently returned to NASA Glenn to continue qualification testing to certify the thrusters for flight.
The Solar Electric Propulsion project is led at NASA Glenn and managed by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program under the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which oversees a portfolio of technology demonstration projects across NASA centers and American industry partners.
NASA’s Glenn Research Center
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From the Apollo rocket engine testing of the 1960s to the spacecraft propulsion systems of today, our site has developed unique facilities to meet the testing needs for testing rocket propulsion systems.
Offering numerous ambient and altitude simulation test stands, we can test propulsion systems as well as single engines in multiple configurations and conditions.
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In systems or environments with higher oxygen content and/or pressure, materials that normally do not burn have a lower ignition temperature, are more vigorously combustible, and have a higher flame temperature if they do burn. In response to the reactivity of oxygen, vigorous testing and requirements for the selection, combination, and cleanliness of material and components used in oxygen service have been developed with our world renowned experts often leading the way.
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