Solar Electric Propulsion | NASA

Solar electric propulsion (SEP) is the use of solar cells in conjunction with electric thrusters to drive a spaceship through space. The European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and NASA have all used this technology in their spacecraft.  SEP has a much higher specific impulse than conventional chemical rockets, requiring less fuel mass to launch a spacecraft, and it has been tested for Mars missions. Solar electric system is also present all around us. Solar engine is heading towards the sun.

NASA wants to reduce the time it takes to develop and apply transformative technologies that will improve the nation’s space capabilities, enable future missions, and support a variety of commercial spaceflight activities as it plans to extend human presence across the solar system, including the Moon and Mars.

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The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) project at NASA is developing crucial technologies that will allow government and commercial clients to increase the length and capabilities of new exploration and scientific missions.

SEP and other advanced propulsion technologies provide the perfect combination of cost reductions, safety, and propulsive force to enable a choice of next-generation joules.

(Read feature: TDM Bridge Builder – Daniel Herman, Solar Electric Propulsion System Lead)

Advanced solar arrays, high-voltage power management and distribution, power processing units, high-power Hall thrusters, and spaceflight diagnostics for assessing system performance are among the technologies the project is creating and demonstrating.

Prior to switching to the Technology Demonstration Missions Program, the SEP project began building huge, flexible, radiation-resistant solar arrays that can be stowed into small, lightw8, more cost-effective launch packages under the auspices of NASA’s Game Changing Development Program. They unroll after launch, absorbing solar energy and supplying the electrical power needed for high-powered electric propulsion.

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Researchers successfully tested a prototype 12.5-kW Hall thruster with magnetic shielding in 2015, allowing it to operate continuously for years — a capability critical for deep-space exploration missions.

NASA awarded a contract in 2016 for a flight-capable SEP system, which includes a power processing unit, a Hall thruster, and a xenon flow controller, to demonstrate the technology during spaceflight and eventually be utilized on operational vehicles to help NASA achieve its space mission.

The Solar Electric Propulsion project will demonstrate important technologies for solar electric transportation systems for robotic and human exploration, as well as extremely efficient orbit transfer caps.

Energy is delivered into extremely fuel-efficient thrusters using SEP technology to produce moderate but constant push throughout the journey. Electrostatic Hall thrusters with improved magnetic shielding are used in the SEP project, which eliminates the need for traditional chemical propellant provided by a standard rocket engine.

The thruster uses a magnetic field to create and trap electrons, which are then used to ionize the onboard propellant — in this case, the inert gas xenon — into a plasma exhaust plume that propels the spaceship forward. To boost thrust, several Hall thrusters can be combined. A device capable of accelerating xenon ions to speeds of over 65,000 mph will provide enough force to produce.

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