Plasma rocket on track to 100 hour firing at 100 kilowatts in 2018

Ad Astra is working to boost the endurance of the Vasimr plasma rocket to 100 hours of continuous firing at a power level of 100 kilowatts, by 2018.

Ad Astra Rocket Company has successfully completed all contract milestones and deliverables for the second of its three-year Next Space Technology Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) contract with NASA. The 9 million dollar, fixed-price contract remains on schedule and on budget. After a successful year-two performance review at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. on July 24, 2017 and completion of a 10-hour cumulative test of the 200SSTM rocket at 100kW, Ad Astra received NASA approval to proceed with year-three activities.

The goal of the project is to demonstrate a 100-hour continuous firing of the company’s VX-200SSTM VASIMR® prototype, at a power level of 100 kW. The company marches towards this goal on schedule, along a path of interim milestones. These focus on the rocket’s new active thermal management system, designed to enable it to operate at full power indefinitely.

This year’s major accomplishments include the demonstration of the rocket’s new thermal management system and major modifications to Ad Astra’s Texas 150 m3 vacuum chamber and laboratory infrastructure. These are needed to handle the unprecedented thermal load from the rocket’s 3 million-degree plasma exhaust. These modifications were validated in a series of rocket firings that began in early July. The final year-two milestone of 10 hours of accumulated rocket operation at 100 kW was successfully completed on August 1, 2017.

The team now moves to year-three with high power plasma campaigns of increasing length, with periods of hardware inspection and opportunities to implement system improvements based on lessons learned. Year three will culminate in the late summer of 2018 with the 100-hr continuous test of the VX-200SSTM at 100kW. Ad Astra expects that this test will bring the VASIMR® engine to a technology readiness level (TRL) of 5, a step just before space flight. Some comments from Ad Astra’s team members, directly involved in the recent 10-hr high power test, capture the excitement of the moment.