Electric Propulsion

Providing Mission Assurance and Anomaly Resolution with World-Class Propulsion Testing Facilities

The Aerospace Corporation began the development of an electric propulsion (EP) testing capability in the 1980s, which has since become one of the world’s premier facilities for the advanced characterization of EP thrusters.

The facilities’ testing expertise has been applied to two key Air Force programs, the Wideband Global Satellite Communication System (WGS) and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) program, providing mission assurance and anomaly resolution for these programs.

Aerospace is well-known for advanced diagnostics applied to thruster characterization and their integration effects on spacecraft – for example, on various plasma probes and laser-based plume measurements. Aerospace was the first to apply a number of diagnostic tools to the characterization of EP thrusters, perhaps most notably electromagnetic radiation measurements.

Recent collaborations with the NASA Glenn Research Center have been critical in advancing NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) 7-kilowatt ion engine to flight, as well as developing future higher-power annular ion-engine designs. Aerospace has also developed novel diagnostics for the characterization of miniature electrospray thrusters developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for use on CubeSats. Aerospace is also a leader in characterizing facility effects on Hall thruster operation, which can severely hamper the ability to reliably predict on-orbit performance using ground-based test and qualification data.

The NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT)

The Aerospace Electromagnetic Interference Test Facility is unique in the world and draws to Aerospace virtually all flight thrusters for testing to ensure that thruster operations will not interfere with satellite communications. Consequently, Aerospace maintains the most comprehensive database on EP thruster measurements anywhere.

Aerospace has played an important historical role in the maturation of EP technology, and continues to advance the state of the art.

Recent collaborations with the NASA Glenn Research Center have been critical in advancing NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) 7-kilowatt ion engine to flight, as well as developing future higher-power annular ion-engine designs. Aerospace has also developed novel diagnostics for the characterization of miniature electrospray thrusters developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for use on CubeSats. Aerospace is also a leader in characterizing facility effects on Hall thruster operation, which can severely hamper the ability to reliably predict on-orbit performance using ground-based test and qualification data.