Both NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) need spacecraft with demanding propulsive performance and greater flexibility for more ambitious missions requiring high duty cycles and extended operations under challenging environmental conditions. Planetary spacecraft need the ability to rendezvous with, orbit, and conduct in situ exploration of planets, moons, and other small bodies. For these applications, Hall Effect thrusters are being designed to meet the propulsion need.
Current Hall effect thrusters make use of hexagonal boron nitride (BN) for the discharge channel in which plasma is generated and accelerated. However, the BN materials have exhibited substantial lot-to-lot variability. Such material property inconsistencies have thus necessitated costly thruster design features to improve survivability margins against mechanical and thermal shock.
ACM has developed PAL BN materials that will reduce the causes of variability and offer predictable performance. ACM’s PAL technology produces a highly uniform microstructure with significant improvements in mechanical properties.
The proposed technology may find use in NASA missions // applications like in HERMES, lunar Gateway, and Psyche propulsion systems. Other applications would be in manned Mars missions, future deep space missions, and for station keeping of near Earth research satellites.
The proposed technology will find primary use in commercial satellite propulsion systems. The materials will also find dual use in the area of machinable ceramics.