NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne Begin Testing on Cutting-Edge Solar Electric Propulsion Thrusters

NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne Begin Testing on Cutting-Edge Solar Electric Propulsion Thrusters

Engineers from NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne are beginning qualification testing on the cutting-edge solar electric propulsion (SEP) thrusters that will change the in-space propulsion game. The culmination of this work will see these innovative thrusters fly on Gateway beginning in 2025, making it the most powerful SEP spacecraft ever flown. Gateway is a lunar space station that will serve as an important part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.

Led by NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program, the Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS), built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, provides 12 kilowatts of propulsive power – over two times more powerful than current state-of-the-art in-space electric propulsion systems. These innovative systems tout extremely high fuel economy at lower thrust, providing mission flexibility and capabilities not achievable using traditional chemical propulsion systems. Three AEPS thrusters will be used on the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) to maneuver Gateway during its planned minimum 15-year mission.

“AEPS is truly a next-generation technology,” said Clayton Kachele, the AEPS project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “Current electric propulsion systems use around four and a half kilowatts of power, whereas here we’re significantly increasing power in a single thruster. That capability opens a world of opportunity for future space exploration, and AEPS will get us there farther and faster.”

The AEPS must undergo qualification testing before being certified to fly on Gateway. The combined NASA-Aerojet team will use two qualification units – models nearly identical to the thrusters that will fly on PPE – during these tests.

In early July, engineers from NASA Glenn, the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Aerojet Rocketdyne began a yearlong series of tests at multiple locations to ensure the AEPS operates properly and meets requirements. The engineers will first perform acceptance testing on one of these model thrusters to make sure it was built correctly, then subject it to extreme vibration, shock, and thermal conditions, similar to what it will experience during launch and flight operations. The team will also hot-fire the unit before and after these tests, operating it at varying power levels to simulate flight conditions and collect performance data.

A view from inside the vacuum chamber showing the Advanced Electric Propulsion System fired up during qualification testing at NASA Glenn.

“This testing campaign is a big deal,” said Rohit Shastry, the lead AEPS engineer. “It’s kind of the final leg before we test the thrusters that will actually fly on Gateway.”

A second qualification unit will arrive at NASA in 2024 to undergo a wear test that mimics the anticipated conditions the AEPS will experience during Gateway’s initial orbit raising and transition to lunar orbit. NASA expects the thrusters to operate for 23,000 hours total during a nearly four-year test campaign inside NASA Glenn’s massive vacuum chambers.

To ensure Gateway is ready for launch and its transit to the Moon, the PPE’s actual flight thrusters are being built now and will launch to space before the entire multi-year wear test is complete.

“With NASA missions, launch dates are critical,” Kachele said. “In this case, NASA is trying to expedite the process, and we’re doing it intelligently. We will complete a few thousand hours of wear testing to prove successful operations before PPE launches. We’ll then complete the final 15,000 hours or so to fully qualify AEPS for future customers, including those at NASA and other government agencies and commercial partners.”

High-power electric propulsion is critical for future crewed transportation systems that will be key in helping NASA explore more of deep space beyond the Moon, the engineers say.

“I think it’ll be exciting to see what kind of missions this technology ends up enabling,” Shastry said. “We are pushing the boundaries of what’s been done and taking giant leaps forward with capability and opportunities.”

NASA’s high-power solar electric propulsion development work is managed by NASA Glenn under the direction of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Click here to learn more about NASA's Gateway Lunar Space Station.

Publisher: SatNow

GNSS Constellations - A list of all GNSS satellites by constellations


Satellite NameOrbit Date
BeiDou-3 G4Geostationary Orbit (GEO)17 May, 2023
BeiDou-3 G2Geostationary Orbit (GEO)09 Mar, 2020
Compass-IGSO7Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)09 Feb, 2020
BeiDou-3 M19Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M20Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)16 Dec, 2019
BeiDou-3 M21Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M22Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)23 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 I3Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Nov, 2019
BeiDou-3 M23Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019
BeiDou-3 M24Medium Earth Orbit (MEO)22 Sep, 2019


Satellite NameOrbit Date
GSAT0223MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0224MEO - Near-Circular05 Dec, 2021
GSAT0219MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0220MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0221MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0222MEO - Near-Circular25 Jul, 2018
GSAT0215MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0216MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0217MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017
GSAT0218MEO - Near-Circular12 Dec, 2017


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Kosmos 2569--07 Aug, 2023
Kosmos 2564--28 Nov, 2022
Kosmos 2559--10 Oct, 2022
Kosmos 2557--07 Jul, 2022
Kosmos 2547--25 Oct, 2020
Kosmos 2545--16 Mar, 2020
Kosmos 2544--11 Dec, 2019
Kosmos 2534--27 May, 2019
Kosmos 2529--03 Nov, 2018
Kosmos 2527--16 Jun, 2018


Satellite NameOrbit Date
Navstar 82Medium Earth Orbit19 Jan, 2023
Navstar 81Medium Earth Orbit17 Jun, 2021
Navstar 78Medium Earth Orbit22 Aug, 2019
Navstar 77Medium Earth Orbit23 Dec, 2018
Navstar 76Medium Earth Orbit05 Feb, 2016
Navstar 75Medium Earth Orbit31 Oct, 2015
Navstar 74Medium Earth Orbit15 Jul, 2015
Navstar 73Medium Earth Orbit25 Mar, 2015
Navstar 72Medium Earth Orbit29 Oct, 2014
Navstar 71Medium Earth Orbit02 Aug, 2014


Satellite NameOrbit Date
NVS-01Geostationary Orbit (GEO)29 May, 2023
IRNSS-1IInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)12 Apr, 2018
IRNSS-1HSub Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (Sub-GTO)31 Aug, 2017
IRNSS-1GGeostationary Orbit (GEO)28 Apr, 2016
IRNSS-1FGeostationary Orbit (GEO)10 Mar, 2016
IRNSS-1EGeosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)20 Jan, 2016
IRNSS-1DInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)28 Mar, 2015
IRNSS-1CGeostationary Orbit (GEO)16 Oct, 2014
IRNSS-1BInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)04 Apr, 2014
IRNSS-1AInclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO)01 Jul, 2013