Propulsion Science

Investigating the Science of Chemical and Electric Propulsion

The Propulsion Science Department (PSD) investigates the science of chemical and electric propulsion, as well as general plasma effects. Scientists and engineers at PSD specialize in electrical propulsion, plasma effects, electromagnetic compatibility, chemical propulsion, propellant environmental effects, and ordnance reliability.

PSD is a leader in electric propulsion testing and integration, and has tested most of the electric propulsion devices that are currently in space.

Aerospace’s test and evaluation of thruster technologies for diverse space programs has played an important role in the development and qualification of new thruster designs. The emphasis on high-power electric propulsion is pushing the envelope on system performance and service life. Through its Advanced Propulsion Diagnostic Facility, PSD is working to ensure that the next generation of electric thruster systems will achieve the envisioned power and efficiency without sacrificing reliability.

Aerospace researchers at PSD address aspects of satellite and launch vehicle propulsion with solutions rooted in chemistry. These areas include physical and chemical characterization of propellant properties, materials compatibility, chemical oxidation and combustion kinetics, assessment of alternative fuels, kinetics modeling, and model validation. Aerospace also conducts studies to consider the impact from and upon satellites and launch vehicles with the space, air, ground, and water environments. PSD maintains testing capabilities for energetics and explosive actuation devices to address ordnance reliability issues.

Aerospace maintains facilities at PSD to address multipactor and corona discharge issues relevant to solar panels and space power systems, and facilities to characterize thruster electromagnetic spectra.