Friday, March 20, 2020

Powerful Thruster Is Prepared for Demonstration Mission to Asteroid

This image shows the NEXT-C flight thruster operating within the vacuum chamber during thermal vacuum testing. Photo credit: NASA

After undergoing a series of performance and environmental tests, NASA’s Evolutionary Xenon Thruster - Commercial (NEXT-C) is being prepared for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which will launch next year.

In the past few months, the thruster, developed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and designed and built by Aerojet Rocketdyne, was put through vibration, thermal vacuum and performance tests and then integrated with its power processing unit. The environmental testing verified that NEXT-C could withstand the extreme launch vibrations and temperatures of spaceflight.

DART will be the first space mission to demonstrate asteroid deflection by kinetic impact, a technique that could prevent a hazardous asteroid from impacting Earth by changing the motion of the asteroid in space. NEXT-C’s propulsion system will be tested on that mission, along with several other technologies.

When the propulsion system is successfully demonstrated on DART, NEXT-C will be considered on a variety of 10 to 15 year-long, uncrewed missions that could include going to other asteroids, comets or planets such as Venus.

The binary near-Earth asteroid (65803) Didymos is the target for the DART demonstration. While the Didymos primary body is approximately 780 meters across, its secondary body (or “moonlet”) is about 160-meters in size, which is more typical of the size of asteroids that could pose the most likely significant threat to Earth. The Didymos binary is being intensely observed using telescopes on Earth to precisely measure its properties before DART arrives.

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission is directed by NASA to the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) with support from several NASA centers: the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Johnson Space Center (JSC), Glenn Research Center (GRC), and Langley Research Center (LRC). 

Source: nasa.gov

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