NASA’s new SEP Project – Solar Electric Propulsion

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March 2, 2015NewsNo comments

One of the newtecharticles reader asked the question after getting very frustrated “what the heck is Solar Electric Propulsion? Is this Nasa’s some new shit? Answer it in an easy way”.

Okay, so, in non technical and in easy terms Solar Electric Propulsion is NASA’s new SEP project that seeks to reduce costs and extend the capabilities of its new ambitious missions related to space explorations. This new propulsion technology may deliver the right mix of saving, safety and superior propulsive power to enrich a variety of next generation journeys to the destinations beyond the earth’s orbit.

Solar Electric Propulsion – The SEP Project

The SEP Project (Solar Electric Propulsion) is sponsored by NASA’s space and technology mission directorate and managed by NASA’s Glenn Research Center. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio leads the Solar Electric Propulsion project for the agency and is preparing a system level flight demonstration to launch later this decade.

Solar Electric Propulsion, SEP Project

The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project is developing critical technologies to enable cost effective  new trips to mars and to asteroids across the inner solar system and also supports a variety of commercial spaceflight activities. Energized by the electric power from on-board solar arrays. The electrically propelled system will use 10 times less propellant than a compromisable,  conventional chemical propulsion system – such as those used to power the space shuttles to orbit. Yet that reduced  fuel mass will deliver robust power capable of propelling robotic and crewed missions well beyond low-earth orbit, sending spacecrafts to distant destinations or ferrying cargo to and from points of interest, laying the groundwork for new missions or resupplying those already under way.

ATK megflex and DSS Mega Rosa

During the technology maturation period – under the auspices of NASA’s game changing development program, prior to transitioning to the TDM program – the Solar Electric Propulsion – SEP project began developing large flexible, radiation-resistant solar arrays that can be stowed into small, lightweight packages for launch and then unfurled to capture enough solar energy to provide high levels of electrical power. The project is working with ATK aerospace and deploy able space system inc to build and test two solar arrays  – one that folds out like a fan (ATK megflex) and another that rolls out like a carpet (DSS Mega- Rosa)

Both use light weight structures and flexible blanket technology and are durable enough to operate for long periods in earth orbit or passing through the punishing space environment, including the Van Allen radiation belts.

Solar Electric Propulsion: Key Mission Facts

  • The Solar Electric Propulsion – SEP project is developing large solar arrays and high-power electric thrusters for an integrated in-space test-flight. Compared with current conventional chemical propulsion systems, at launch it will weigh two times less and use four times less storage for the electricity produced, and will operate at radiation levels four times greater than current commercial systems.
  • Because the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) spacecraft will weigh much less at launch, fewer heavy launch vehicles will be needed to enable missions to Mars or near-Earth asteroids. Each launch vehicle will be able to carry more supplies or science instruments, potentially saving billions of dollars.
  • The system’s 30- to 50-kilowatt power level will significantly increase SEP capabilities, permit wider launch windows and open up a range of possible missions, including robotic missions to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit for study; science missions to determine the effects of long-duration space missions on living cells and organisms; commercial use to service and reposition orbital communications satellites; and a variety of cost-effective robotic and crewed missions to Mars or other solar system destinations.

[Source – NASA]

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