Ideas Sought for Solar-Electric Propulsion

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NASA is soliciting proposals for a mission that would test solar-electric propulsion systems capable of moving heavy loads from low Earth orbit to higher orbits.

NASA issued a broad agency announcement (BAA) June 17 seeking mission concepts to “test and validate key capabilities and technologies required for future exploration elements, such as 300-kilowatt solar electric transfer vehicles.

“Flying a demonstration mission on a representative trajectory through the Van Allen radiation belts and operating in actual space environments could reveal unknown systems-level and operational issues” with the solar-powered technology, NASA wrote in the statement.

NASA said it will pay out “multiple firm-fixed-priced awards with a total value up to $2 million.”

Solar-electric propulsion systems could conceivably be used to move payloads launched to low Earth orbit via conventional chemical-fueled rockets to, for example, one of the Lagrange points. Such locations, gravitationally stable points in space, are potential staging areas for missions to near Earth asteroids and other deep space destinations.

Interested parties must apply by July 18. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is managing the project.