4/27/2015 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- The Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office are collaborating to host a Hall thruster experiment onboard the X-37B flight vehicle.
The experiment will be hosted on Orbital Test Vehicle mission 4, the fourth flight of the X-37B reusable space plane.
The first three OTV flights have accumulated a total of 1,367 days of
on-orbit experimentation prior to successful landings and recoveries at
Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The X-37B program performs risk
reduction, experimentation, and concept of operations development for
reusable space vehicle technologies, and it is administered by RCO.
The Hall thruster that will fly on the X-37B experiment is a modified
version of the units that have propelled SMC's first three Advanced
Extremely High Frequency military communications spacecraft. A Hall
thruster is a type of electric propulsion device that produces thrust by
ionizing and accelerating a noble gas, usually xenon. While producing
comparatively low thrust relative to conventional rocket engines, Hall
thrusters provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel
economy. This results in increased payload carrying capacity and a
greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall
thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines.
This experiment will enable in-space characterization of Hall thruster
design modifications that are intended to improve performance relative
to the state-of-the-art units onboard AEHF. The experiment will include
collection of telemetry from the Hall thruster operating in the space
environment as well as measurement of the thrust imparted on the
vehicle. The resulting data will be used to validate and improve Hall
thruster and environmental modeling capabilities, which enhance the
ability to extrapolate ground test results to actual on-orbit
performance. The on-orbit test plans are being developed by AFRL and
administered by RCO.
The experiment has garnered strong support from AFRL senior leadership.
"Space is so vitally important to everything we do," said Maj. Gen. Tom
Masiello, AFRL commander. "Secure comms, ISR, missile warning, weather
prediction, precision navigation and timing all rely on it, and the
domain is increasingly contested. A more efficient on-orbit thruster
capability is huge. Less fuel burn lowers the cost to get up there, plus
it enhances spacecraft operational flexibility, survivability and
Dr. Greg Spanjers, the AFRL Space Capability Lead and Chief Scientist of
the Space Vehicles Directorate, added, "AFRL is proud to be able to
contribute to this research teamed with our partners at SMC, RCO, NASA,
Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Aerojet-Rocketdyne. It was great to see
our Gov't-Contractor team identify an opportunity and then quickly
respond to implement a solution that will offer future Air Force
spacecraft even greater capabilities."