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Aerojet Rocketdyne advances space maneuver with new propulsion tech
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Aerojet Rocketdyne advances space maneuver with new propulsion tech
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Apr 16, 2024

From the early days of space exploration, objects in orbit have followed the predictable trajectories described by Johannes Kepler's laws. These paths, while historically reliable, no longer meet the strategic demands of today's complex and contested Space Area of Operations (AOR). The need for agility and unpredictability in satellite movements has become paramount as space becomes a more contested domain.

During the 2023 Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, then Deputy Commander of U.S. Space Command, Lt. Gen. John Shaw, highlighted the critical nature of maneuverability in space. He stressed that space should be managed as dynamically as any terrestrial domain, with capabilities for rapid movement and evasion to achieve strategic surprise and operational superiority.

"Dynamic Space Operations, or DSO, are fundamentally about enabling on-orbit maneuverability," said Tom Wehr, director of business development for launch and space exploration at Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3Harris Technologies company. Wehr emphasized that the ability to change orbits on demand disrupts adversarial targeting and complicates their military planning.

For instance, satellites in fixed, predictable orbits allow adversaries to anticipate surveillance times and alter their activities to evade detection. The capability to maneuver satellites could therefore enhance the effectiveness of space surveillance, allowing for adaptive responses to threats and opportunities in real-time. Moreover, in scenarios where space becomes a battleground, having maneuverable assets can be a game-changer, allowing forces to maintain the upper hand.

To address these evolving challenges, Aerojet Rocketdyne has been at the forefront of developing advanced propulsion technologies that enable greater flexibility and endurance for spacecraft. These innovations include:

+ Electric satellite thrusters with 10 times the efficiency of conventional chemical propulsion systems.

+ A long-life version of the company's high-thrust RL10 upper stage rocket engine, capable of multiple of in-space restarts, an industry workhorse that has sent probes across the Solar System and beyond.

+ High-performance propellants that are more efficient and environmentally friendly than hydrazine and other chemical fuels typically used for in-space propulsion.

+ Air-breathing electric propulsion systems for satellites operating in very low Earth orbit, or VLEO. Because they draw their propellant from the residual atmosphere in VLEO, these systems have virtually unconstrained maneuverability.

+ Long-life mono-propellant thrusters for refuelable space vehicles.

+ High Delta-V Integrated ESPA (EELV Secondary Payload Adapter) Propulsion Systems to provide significant maneuverability capability to smaller space vehicles.

+ Long-life, high-performance bipropellant liquid rocket engines for higher-impulse DSO maneuver requirements.

+ On-orbit refueling and propellant management systems for monopropellants and cryogenic propellants.

These developments are not just theoretical. Aerojet Rocketdyne's propulsion systems have already proven their worth in numerous commercial and government space missions. The company is also enhancing its electric thrusters to support NASA's ambitious space exploration goals, providing low-thrust, high-efficiency propulsion suitable for long-duration missions.

Additionally, the upgraded RL10 engine is designed to offer not just increased longevity but also the flexibility to shift payloads between orbits post-launch, significantly complicating the tracking efforts of potential adversaries. This ability to alter satellite positions days or even weeks after reaching orbit ensures that critical assets can remain hidden or be repositioned as strategic needs evolve.

The success of these propulsion systems in practical applications underscores their reliability and the advantage they provide to the U.S. Space Force and its allies. As space becomes an increasingly critical and contested domain, the innovations from Aerojet Rocketdyne are set to play a pivotal role in ensuring U.S. space superiority.

Related Links
Electric satellite thrusters
Rocket Science News at Space-Travel.Com

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