Ad Astra Rocket Company proposes a novel method of manufacturing a VASIMR® coupler. This method intends to increase the surface area in contact between the actively cooled coupler and the plasma facing GCT resulting in a lower heat flux between the components, lower temperature on the GCT, higher operational temperature margin, and ultimately a higher steady-state operational power limit of 100 kW for the VX-200SS™ prototype. This innovation is anticipated to increase the contact surface area by a factor of 3 and lower the temperature of the full-scale Ion Cyclotron Heating (ICH) GCT by roughly 40%. This manufacturing method will first be applied to a small-scale coupler assembly that will then have its thermal performance experimentally verified and compared to a traditionally-manufactured small-scale coupler assembly. At the completion of the Phase I work, Ad Astra will provide a small-scale prototype demonstrating the viability of the manufacturing method and a report that contains experimental data, simulation results, analysis, predicted thermal performance of the full-scale ICH coupler assembly, and a design/test plan for thruster-level integration and demonstration to be implemented in Phase II.
This maturation of the VASIMR® engine will move it closer to commercialization. The VASIMR® engine is a high-power electric propulsion system approaching TRL 5. Past prototypes have exceeded many key performance parameters detailed in the National Academies' "Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration" 2021 report and are anticipated to exceed them all. The VX-200 VASIMR® prototype operated at 200 kW of electrical power at 72% efficiency and a specific impulse of 4,900 seconds. VASIMR® engines can use many propellants including argon and krypton. The TC-1Q first flight unit is expected to operate at 150 kW electrical power, readily be clustered to exceed 1 MW, have a specific mass of 4 kg/kWe, and have an operation lifetime of 10 years.
Cislunar cargo transfer, space debris removal, Mars mission (cargo, crew), deep space uncrewed missions, asteroid mining/deflection
High-maneuverability satellites, in-space manufacturing logistics, lunar settlement cargo delivery, private space station positioning