Solar Electric Propulsion Flight Demonstration Partnership Request for Information

Funding Agency:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) is seeking information on potential partners for a technology demonstration of specific solar electric propulsion (SEP) technology as described below.

NASA has been developing advanced solar electric propulsion (SEP) technologies in the form of large, lightweight, deployable, flexible blanket solar arrays and a 13-kilowatt Hall Effect thruster with magnetic shielding for long life operation. This effort is intended to benefit human missions to Mars, activities in cis-lunar space, and highly-capable science missions. The advanced SEP technology could also provide more affordable primary power and highly efficient orbit transfer and station-keeping capabilities for commercial space missions. 

NASA is interested in a commercial or other government agency partnership for a potential flight demonstration of these advanced SEP technologies, and in particular, the 13-kilowatt Hall Effect thruster electric propulsion string. The electric propulsion string includes a Hall Effect thruster, a power processing unit (PPU), and a xenon flow controller. Under an existing contract, NASA expects to complete the development and qualification of the electric propulsion string by 2019. NASA would like to see a flight demonstration that employs one or several of these electric propulsion strings as soon as possible following ground qualification of the system. An objective of the flight demonstration is to operate one or more of the electric propulsion strings in the space environment for extended periods of time with the goal of processing in the range of 1000 kilograms of xenon propellant per thruster. The objectives of the demonstration would also include characterization of the performance of the propulsion system and exhaust plume interaction with the spacecraft. The inclusion of the advanced solar array technology that is extensible to deep space NASA missions would also be highly desirable.

In a potential partnership, NASA would provide the electric propulsion strings, diagnostic instrumentation, and subject matter expertise for the flight demonstration at no cost. NASA seeks a partner who could provide a spacecraft and launch for the demonstration at a minimal, or preferably no additional, cost to NASA. NASA would expect the partner to share all flight data relevant to the performance of the SEP system and its interactions with other spacecraft elements and systems. It is expected that the partner would utilize this spacecraft and mission for their own additional commercial, scientific, or government purposes.  

The specific objective of this RFI is to solicit information that will assist STMD in developing a potential partnership opportunity for a spaceflight demonstration of SEP technology as described in Section 2.0. This RFI solicits brief descriptions of potential flight demonstration mission concepts from interested parties.

Response Date: Sep. 8, 2017




Engineering and Physical Sciences

External Deadline

September 8, 2017