NASA STTR 2008 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 08-1 T3.01-9976
RESEARCH SUBTOPIC TITLE: Technologies for Space Power and Propulsion
PROPOSAL TITLE: Advanced Microwave Electrothermal Thruster (AMET)

NAME: Orbital Technologies Corporation NAME: University of Alabama Huntsville
STREET: Space Center, 1212 Fourier Drive STREET: 301 Sparkman Drive
CITY: Madison CITY: Huntsville
STATE/ZIP: WI  53717 - 1961 STATE/ZIP: AL  35899 - 0001
PHONE: (608) 827-5000 PHONE: (800) 824-2255

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Chris St. Clair

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) and the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH) propose to develop the Advanced Microwave Electrothermal Thruster (AMET), a high-efficiency thruster which will use water propellant to enable various Lunar and Mars missions. The proposed AMET will incorporate a number of innovations to dramatically improve upon existing designs, including the use of a lower microwave frequency (915 MHz) to permit the achievement of very high microwave generation efficiency with commercially-available magnetrons. The AMET is a particularly attractive option for this class of missions because it provides specific impulse (~800 seconds) well beyond the reach of chemical propulsion, it provides high thrust per unit power to keep transit times acceptably short, and it permits the use of an easily-storable propellant (water) which is known to be available on both the Moon and Mars. ORBITEC staff has experience operating microwave electrothermal thrusters with water vapor as propellant. In Phase I, the AMET will be demonstrated with water vapor propellant to demonstrate feasibility, reaching TRL 4. In Phase II, a flight-like AMET will be developed and demonstrated and a design will be prepared for an entire AMET flight propulsion system, reaching TRL 6.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The AMET has the potential to enable a broad spectrum of space missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond by providing low-cost, high-performance electric propulsion using environmentally-benign water propellant which is known to be available in both the Lunar and Martian environments. The AMET will lend itself to mission architectures involving refueling at the Moon and Mars, minimizing launch costs by utilizing in-situ resources. The AMET is highly synergistic for manned missions because water is always a part of such missions for life-support purposes.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
The AMET, and related MET propulsion systems, will also be very attractive for applications in Earth orbit for both DoD and commercial space operations. In one configuration, the AMET may be combined with a chemical rocket engine using hydrogen-oxygen, formed by on-board electrolysis, to form a highly flexible dual-mode propulsion system which can respond to emerging mission requirements with either electric propulsion or chemical propulsion, enabling mission planners to achieve high Isp or high thrust, as needed. Such a system would be attractive for space systems ranging from commercial communications satellites to DoD surveillance spacecraft in need of periodic orbital maneuvering.

NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.

Electrostatic Thrusters

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