Photo of the first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background.  On the upcoming May flight of the space plane, a Hall thruster will be tested to provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy, and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers. Courtesy photo via US Air Force

Photo of the first X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle waits in the encapsulation cell of the Evolved Expendable Launch vehicle April 5, 2010, at the Astrotech facility in Titusville, Fla. Half of the Atlas V five-meter fairing is visible in the background.
On the upcoming May flight of the space plane, a Hall thruster will be tested to provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy, and may lead to increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers.
Courtesy photo via US Air Force

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that the Atlas V launch of the AFSPC-5 mission – the X-37B — has been confirmed on the Eastern Range for May 20, 2015.

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed the spacecraft is on track to meet this launch date.

Meanwhile, new details about an experiment onboard the 4th mission of the space plane program have been outlined by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office.

Electric propulsion

Among other payloads, a Hall thruster experiment will fly on the X-37B.

The device is a modified version of the units that have propelled the Space and Missile Systems Center’s ( SMC) first three Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications spacecraft.

What’s a Hall thruster?

It is a type of electric propulsion device that produces thrust by ionizing and accelerating a noble gas, usually xenon. While producing comparatively low thrust relative to conventional rocket engines, Hall thrusters provide significantly greater specific impulse, or fuel economy.

This results in increased payload carrying capacity and a greater number of on-orbit maneuvers for a spacecraft using Hall thrusters rather than traditional rocket engines, according to an update from the Air Force Materiel Command Wright-Patterson Air Force Base update.

Less fuel burn

Once in orbit, the X-37B toted experiment will include collection of telemetry from the Hall thruster operating in the space environment as well as measurement of the thrust imparted on the vehicle.

The resulting data will be used to validate and improve Hall thruster and environmental modeling capabilities. The in-space test will provide data to contrast ground test results to actual on-orbit performance.

Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, AFRL commander said: “A more efficient on-orbit thruster capability is huge. Less fuel burn lowers the cost to get up there, plus it enhances spacecraft operational flexibility, survivability and longevity.”

The on-orbit test plans are being developed by AFRL and administered by the Rapid Capabilities Office.

 

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