Headlines > News > Ad Astra and NASA move to execution phase of NextSTEP VASIMR partnership

Ad Astra and NASA move to execution phase of NextSTEP VASIMR partnership

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Tue Aug 11, 2015 5:48 am via: Ad Astra
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Ad Astra  Rocket  Company  and  NASA  have successfully  completed  contract  negotiations  on the  company’s  Next  Space  Technology Exploration  Partnerships  (NextSTEP)  award, announced on March 31, 2015, and now enter the execution phase of the project. The  parties  executed  the  contract,  a  three-year, fixed  price  agreement,  on  August  7,  2015  for  a total value of just over $9 million. The agreement is  structured  as  a  one-year  contract  with  two additional  one-year  extensions  based  on  the accomplishment of mutually agreed upon progress milestones.


NASA’s  Advanced  Exploration  Systems  Program sponsors  NextSTEP  awards  in  a  50/50  cost partnership  with  industry.  Under  this  award,  Ad Astra will conduct a long duration, high power test of an upgraded version of the VX-200 VASIMR prototype, the VX-200SS (for steady state), for a minimum  of  100  hours  continuously  at  a  power level  of  100  kW. 

These  experiments  aim  to demonstrate  the  engine’s  new  proprietary  core design  and  thermal  control  subsystem  and  to better  estimate  component  lifetime. The tests  will be  conducted  in  Ad  Astra’s  large,  state-of-the-art vacuum chamber in the company’s Texas facility. Since  its  inception  in  2005,  Ad  Astra  has continued  to  advance  the  technology  readiness level  (TRL)  of  the  VASIMR  engine  almost exclusively  with  private  funding.  This  funding enabled  the  company  to  complete  more  than 10,000  successful  high  power  firings, demonstrating the engine’s excellent reliability and performance  (6  N  thrust,  5000  sec  I sp   at  greater than 70% efficiency) with no measurable signs of engine wear.

To optimize company resources, these tests were of  short  duration  (less  than  1  minute),  but sufficiently  long  to  reliably  establish  the  rocket’s performance and measure thermal loads. Now, a longer duration test is needed to validate the new rocket  core  design  for  extended  operation  in space.  Going  forward  in  partnership  with  NASA under  the  NextSTEP  award,  Ad  Astra  continues the  technology  maturation  of  the  VASIMR to  a TRL level greater than 5, a step closer to flight.

“We are proud of our accomplishments and thrilled by this announcement, which gives us a big boost toward space,” said Dr. Mark D. Carter, Ad Astra’s Sr. VP, Technology Development. “I am proud to be  a  be  part  of  this  project,  an  example  of  a progressive  commercial-NASA  partnership, seeking  to  advance  the  United  States’  electric propulsion capability for the future of spaceflight,” said  Dr.  Jared  P.  Squire,  Ad  Astra’s  Sr.  VP, Research. Drs. Carter and Squire are leading the project  at  Ad  Astra  as  Principal  and  Co-Principal Investigators respectively.

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