NASA SBIR 2003 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER:03-F7.01-8219 (For NASA Use Only - Chron: 034786)
SUBTOPIC TITLE:High Power Electric Propulsion For Human Missions
PROPOSAL TITLE:Thermal Management of Superconducting Electromagnets in VASIMR Thrusters

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Creare Inc
P.O. Box 71, 16 Great Hollow Road
Hanover ,NH 03755 - 0071
(603) 643 - 3800

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Mark V. Zagarola
P.O. Box 71, 16 Great Hollow Road
Hanover ,NH  03755 -0071
(603) 643 - 3800
U.S. Citizen or Legal Resident: Yes

Future manned space exploration missions will require high power electric propulsion. VASIMR thrusters are the most attractive option because they offer short transit times and low propellant usage. A key component in VASIMR thrusters is the cryogenic electromagnets. Cooling systems for the magnets do not currently exist. The innovation of the proposed project is a high-capacity turbo-Brayton cryocooler for thermal management of VASIMR electromagnets. The cryocooler has heritage in the space-qualified unit that was developed by Creare for the Hubble Space Telescope. Turbo-Brayton cryocoolers are ideal for space applications because they are lightweight, compact, efficient, highly reliable and have long maintenance-free lifetimes (>10 years). Furthermore, the technology scales well to high cooling capacities and is inherently simple to integrate with multiple cooling objects; attributes that are particularly beneficial for VASIMR systems. In Phase I we will design thermal management systems for VASIMR thrusters at power levels consistent with near-term flight experiments and future manned space exploration missions. During Phase II, we will demonstrate a prototype thermal management system. In Phase III we will develop the complete thermal management system, integrate the system with a VASIMR thruster, and demonstrate the system through tests in a thermal vacuum chamber.

This program will result in the development of a high-capacity turbo-Brayton cryocooler that is compact, lightweight, consumes minimal power, and is simple to integrate with spacecraft systems and cooling loads. Space applications include cooling systems for high-temperature superconducting magnets for electric propulsion, and observation platforms requiring large arrays of infrared and X-ray detectors; and cooling systems for cryogen storage for planetary and extraterrestrial exploration missions, extended-life orbital transfer vehicles, long-term geosynchronous missions, in-space propellant depots and extraterrestrial bases. Terrestrial applications include cooling systems for spaceport cryogen storage and cryogen transportation systems.

Non-NASA commercial applications include cooling systems for high-temperature superconducting magnets in motors and magnetic resonance imaging systems; laboratory- and industrial-scale gas separation, liquefaction, cryogen storage and cryogen transportation systems; and commercial orbital transfer vehicles and satellites.