KEY POINTS

  • NASA conducted hot-fire tests on next-generation thrusters
  • The TALOS thrusters can use an efficient type of propellant
  • The new thrusters could be used for the Artemis program

NASA has completed a rigorous test for its next-generation thrusters that could be used for its future Artemis missions. For the test, the agency subjected the thruster prototypes to 60 hot-fire simulations.

NASA carried out the test over the course of 10 days with private space firm Frontier Aerospace of Simi Valley, California. It was conducted at the Moog-ISP in Niagara Falls, New York, a facility with a vacuum chamber that can simulate space conditions.

The test focused on a new type of equipment developed through NASA’s Thruster for the Advanced Low-Temperature Operation in Space (TALOS) project. Through this project, the agency was able to develop thruster prototypes that are more efficient, which means they can reduce the total cost of space missions.

The secret behind the TALOS project is the ability of its thrusters to use a type of propellant that features a mixture of nitrogen and monomethyl hydrazine. Known as MON-25, this propellant can operate at extended periods of time even at low temperatures.

MON-25 has been around since the 1980s. However, despite going through various tests, no spacecraft currently uses the propellant. This is mainly because most thrusters were designed to operate at a specific temperature range. TALOS thrusters, on the other hand, can operate between -40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing it to utilize the MON-25 propellant.

Since this propellant can work at long periods, using TALOS thrusters will greatly benefit space agencies.

“TALOS is about leveraging the benefits of MON-25, which will reduce the amount of power needed for spacecraft when operating in extremely low temperatures,” Greg Barnett, the TALOS project manager for NASA stated.

On March 16, NASA completed the test for its TALOS thrusters. Over the course of 10 days, the thrusters were subjected to space conditions and performed over 60 hot-fire tests. Images provided by NASA showed the thrusters glowing red-hot due to the rigorous tests.

Since the thrusters performed well during the test, Barnett noted that NASA would most likely assess the TALOS project for its possible application in the upcoming Artemis spaceflight program.

“NASA will soon verify this versatile thruster design for space so that the agency and commercial companies can easily implement the technology in future missions,” he stated. “Astrobotic plans to use this thruster design on their lunar lander that will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA in 2021.”

TALOS Thruster NASA and Frontier Aerospace are developing next-generation thrusters for use on Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander. In March 2020, thruster prototypes performed over 60 hot-fire tests in a vacuum chamber Photo: NASA/Frontier Aerospace