Boeing to develop advanced electric propulsion technology

Boeing has recently been awarded three new contracts under NASA’s In-Space Propulsion Technologies program for the development of advanced xenon ion propulsion technologies.

NASA awarded the projects to Boeing Electronic Dynamic Devices (EDD), located in Torrance, California. The projects include the Carbon-Based Ion Optics project; the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster system project; and the High Power Electric Propulsion project.

The goal of the In-Space Propulsion Technologies program is to provide funding for the development of advanced propulsion technologies for use beyond Earth’s orbit. According to Boeing, these technologies will reduce trip times, mass, and/or cost associated with NASA science missions to the outer planets, satellites, small bodies, and other destinations in the solar system.

EDD will lead a team in the development of advanced Carbon-Based Ion Optics (CBIO). These are the critical components of high-power gridded xenon ion thrusters that are said to have a traditionally limited lifetime. A two-phase effort, the first phase entails a 16-month effort to design, fabricate and test ion optics made from carbon-carbon composites and pyrolytic graphite. The CBIO project also includes the development and validation of an Ion Optics Lifetime Computer Model to predict the performance and lifetime of candidate grid designs.

The second phase is an 18-month extension period to develop and test carbon based ion optics designs for possible use on the next generation ion engine. EDD is teamed with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA Glenn Research Centre on the CBIO Project.

EDD also was awarded a contract to support NASA Glenn Research Centre on the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster system (NEXT). The NEXT project is also a two-phase effort to develop a next generation high power ion propulsion system for new space science missions.

The first phase is a one-year effort to design, build and test initial Ion Thrusters, Propellant Systems and Power Processing Units. EDD has sole responsibility for the design and development of the power processing units as well as being a member of the thruster and propellant system team. The second phase is a two-and-a-half-year option to complete hardware development, integrate the components into a full-scale system and perform thruster wear tests.

The third award named EDD as a member of the NASA Glenn Research Centre team for the High Power Electric Propulsion project. This program will develop and test technologies for high specific impulse, 25 to 30 kilowatt, gridded xenon ion thrusters, two-stage Hall thrusters, power processing units and propellant control systems. EDD will perform the power processing unit design and analysis for the project system and participate in the thruster and propellant system technologies.

According to Boeing, the designs that will be developed and demonstrated on these three programs over the next two-and-a-half-years are the critical technologies needed for development of very high power (100kW to 250kW) nuclear electric propulsion systems for NASA’s future deep space missions.

‘Participation in these exciting new programs will allow EDD to assist NASA in the development new electric propulsion products with significant performance improvements,’ said Andrew King, Electric Propulsion product line director at EDD. ‘These next generation products will enable NASA to perform further exploration of the solar system.’