Georgia Tech Shares $ 15 Million From NASA To Advance Deep Space Exploration

PICTURE: Mitchell Walker and his research team in the High Power Electric Propulsion (HPEPL) Laboratory at Georgia Tech. view After

Credit: Christopher Moore, Georgia Tech

Every few years, NASA creates Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) in areas it believes will be strategic for future technology and space missions. Today that field is electric propulsion – the use of electric energy to accelerate the thruster to create thrust. The technology produces extremely efficient thrusters for propelling spaceflight for gateway launches to the Moon or even for carrying huge loads of cargo to Mars.

The Georgia Institute of Technology, along with 11 partner universities and 17 researchers, will receive $ 15 million over five years to fund the Joint Advanced Propulsion Institute (JANUS) – a new STRI to develop strategies and methodologies to overcome trial limitations High-powered ground electric propulsion systems.

Mitchell Walker, professor at the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, is the Principal Investigator and will be the Director of JANUS, leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers from across the country. According to the original proposal, JANUS ‘vision is to enable and proliferate the theft of high power electric propulsion systems.

From October 2021, JANUS will take on the main challenges of electric propulsion ground tests. Other challenges in the field will also be examined, including pressure in the vacuum installation, erosion and material deposits, and electrical circuits that do not exist in space as they do on Earth. Walker aims to overcome these infrastructure issues to better understand how researchers can test engines in the field and extrapolate that data for use in space.

“The challenge is that in order to get electric propulsion devices big enough to push spacecraft and cargo to their destination quickly enough for future NASA missions, the engines will be bigger than what we know how to test in the field.” , Walker said. “JANUS will meet infrastructure challenges to ensure accurate ground testing and data translation to create electric propulsion that powers space travel.”

For the past 25 years, electric propulsion researchers knew ground testing was a problem. Until now, however, there has never been a group of researchers specializing in several fields from different universities working together to solve the problem.

“JANUS is important because we bring together people who are experts in all aspects of the problem,” Walker said. “Together, as researchers, we can work side by side to get a full answer and figure out what to do next. We can then give our answers to the electric propulsion tests to the community, not just to NASA, but to the Department of Defense and all. If we are successful in the United States, that will be an international standard on how to do the tests. tests. And that will move everyone forward. ”

Alongside Walker, four managers focus specifically on diagnostics and fundamental studies (Joshua Rovey and John Williams), physics-based modeling and integration (Richard Wirz), and the effects of pressurized electrical installations (Benjamin Jorns). ). Walker assembled this team to ensure that all researchers contribute to specific areas of the Research Institute, tapping into each other’s areas of expertise. He also believes this business model will keep them engaged as the research pivots.

For Walker, leading JANUS will be the culmination of his 16-year research career in electric propulsion. Previously, he had not had the opportunity to work in tandem with some of the world’s most talented researchers on a pervasive research challenge.

“JANUS is a dream come true for me,” he said. “You can work with the best people in the country on the most relevant issues, and the students who come out of them will lead the way for the next 20 to 30 years. impact and legacy on the ground. ”

Another goal of Walker with JANUS is to proactively improve diversity, equity and inclusion across the research enterprise.

“Team members from Clark Atlanta University, Chicago City Colleges, and Chicago State bring a unique perspective,” he said. “We chose these establishments because of their existing strengths in material characterization, the expertise we needed. Then we incorporated a lot of different pathways for the undergraduates at these institutions to contribute science. They were integral to the value of the proposal. “

Over the next three years, Walker’s team will use uncertainty quantification and sensitivity analysis of overall thruster performance and life models to drive and accelerate experimental modeling and investigations.

“We expect some really phenomenal results after three years, and in our proposal, we identify that they will help us orient our research based on the real problems and unknowns we uncover,” Walker said. “These unknowns could be pressure effects, erosion processes, electrical issues, and instability issues.”

For the final two years of the grant, the JANUS team plans to provide new tools, strategies and guidelines to assess existing infrastructure and design new infrastructure to test high-powered electric propulsion. These include validated models for thruster response to vacuum installation, new physics-based standards for testing and modeling that encapsulate best practices for mitigating or compensating for installation effects, and new standardized diagnostic techniques to characterize the effects of the installation on the operation of the thrusters. .

JANUS partner universities include the Georgia Institute of Technology (Mitchell Walker, Maryam Saeedifard); University of Michigan (John Foster, Alec Gallimore, Alex Gorodetsky, Benjamin Jorns); University of California, Los Angeles (Richard Wirz, Jaime Marian); University of Illinois (Huck Beng Chew, Deborah Levin, Joshua Rovey); Colorado State University (John Williams, Azer Yalin); Pennsylvania State University (Sarah Cusson); Stanford University (Ken Hara); University of Colorado at Boulder (Iain Boyd); Western Michigan University (Kristina Lemmer); Clark Atlanta University (Issifu Harruna); Chicago State University (Valerie Goss); and City Colleges of Chicago (Phillip Vargas). Industrial partners include The Aerospace Corporation, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Busek.

The work of many Georgia Tech staff and faculty contributed to the creation of Walker’s proposal, including Ming “Millie” Wang of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and Kristal Thompson-Black of the Guggenheim School. of Aerospace Engineering, which provided budget support for this proposal. Rebecca Terns, Ph.D., and Brian James of the Office of Research Development helped manage the assembly and submission of the Institute’s proposal.


The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is one of the top 10 public research universities developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.

The Institute offers degrees in business, computer science, design, engineering, liberal arts, and science. Its nearly 40,000 students, representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main Atlanta campus, campuses in France and China, and remotely and online.

As a leading technological university, Georgia Tech is an engine of economic development for Georgia, the Southeast, and the country, leading more than $ 1 billion in research for government, industry and the society.

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