Session

Technical Session 11: Propulsion

Location

Utah State University, Logan, UT

Abstract

The maturity in small spacecraft technology is indicated by the continued growth in the number of missions, mission complexity, and the expansion of smallsat subsystem capability. Identified development paths include the consideration of systems and components with flight heritage on larger spacecraft to meet the needs of smaller platforms, the conception of novel technologies specifically designed for small spacecraft, and the incremental improvements every 1-2 years in components where the underlying technology remains unchanged. Progress of overall smallsat technology development is captured in the most recent 2020 State-of-the-Art Small Spacecraft Technology (SoA) report, the objective of which is to assess and provide an overview on the current development status across all subsystem architectures. The SoA report contains a variety of surveys covering device performance, capabilities, and flight history, as presented in publicly available literature. The focus of these surveys is on devices or systems that can be commercially procured or appear on a path towards commercial availability. The work toward the 2020 edition of the report was managed by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI) and performed by several contractor staff. The S3VI is jointly funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate.

Technological advancement varies across subsystems, and smallsat propulsion technology has had a rapid increase in quantity and type in the last few years that is documented in the SoA report. The extensive efforts made by industry, academia, and government entities to develop and mature small spacecraft propulsive technologies suggest a range of devices with diverse capabilities will become more readily available in near future. While the report uses the NASA Technology Readiness Level scale to measure technical maturity, the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter implemented a novel classification system that recognized Progress towards Mission Infusion (PMI) as an early indicator of the efficacy of the manufacturers’ approach to system maturation and mission infusion. Readers of this paper are highly encouraged to refer to the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter for further information on the PMI classifications.

A driving trend captured in the SoA report is that smallsat missions are becoming more complex in the anticipation of using smallsats to collect lunar and deep space science. Smallsat propulsive technology must mature operationally to meet the needs of the increasing smallsat mission complexity. This paper will expand upon the progression of technical maturation identified in the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter presented in the 2020 report and compare these developmental achievements to the “Propulsion” chapter in the 2018 SoA report. By making these comparisons, the reader will be able to measure the degree of advancement in smallsat propulsion technology that has been made in the last few years, understand the specific development approaches propulsion engineers encounter, and learn about the current trends in smallsat propulsion.

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Aug 10th, 2:00 PM

A Comparison of the Technological Maturation of In-Space Propulsion Systems from 2018 to 2020

Utah State University, Logan, UT

The maturity in small spacecraft technology is indicated by the continued growth in the number of missions, mission complexity, and the expansion of smallsat subsystem capability. Identified development paths include the consideration of systems and components with flight heritage on larger spacecraft to meet the needs of smaller platforms, the conception of novel technologies specifically designed for small spacecraft, and the incremental improvements every 1-2 years in components where the underlying technology remains unchanged. Progress of overall smallsat technology development is captured in the most recent 2020 State-of-the-Art Small Spacecraft Technology (SoA) report, the objective of which is to assess and provide an overview on the current development status across all subsystem architectures. The SoA report contains a variety of surveys covering device performance, capabilities, and flight history, as presented in publicly available literature. The focus of these surveys is on devices or systems that can be commercially procured or appear on a path towards commercial availability. The work toward the 2020 edition of the report was managed by NASA’s Small Spacecraft Systems Virtual Institute (S3VI) and performed by several contractor staff. The S3VI is jointly funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and Science Mission Directorate.

Technological advancement varies across subsystems, and smallsat propulsion technology has had a rapid increase in quantity and type in the last few years that is documented in the SoA report. The extensive efforts made by industry, academia, and government entities to develop and mature small spacecraft propulsive technologies suggest a range of devices with diverse capabilities will become more readily available in near future. While the report uses the NASA Technology Readiness Level scale to measure technical maturity, the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter implemented a novel classification system that recognized Progress towards Mission Infusion (PMI) as an early indicator of the efficacy of the manufacturers’ approach to system maturation and mission infusion. Readers of this paper are highly encouraged to refer to the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter for further information on the PMI classifications.

A driving trend captured in the SoA report is that smallsat missions are becoming more complex in the anticipation of using smallsats to collect lunar and deep space science. Smallsat propulsive technology must mature operationally to meet the needs of the increasing smallsat mission complexity. This paper will expand upon the progression of technical maturation identified in the “In-Space Propulsion” chapter presented in the 2020 report and compare these developmental achievements to the “Propulsion” chapter in the 2018 SoA report. By making these comparisons, the reader will be able to measure the degree of advancement in smallsat propulsion technology that has been made in the last few years, understand the specific development approaches propulsion engineers encounter, and learn about the current trends in smallsat propulsion.