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Advanced Exo-atmospheric Propulsion and Control Systems



OBJECTIVE: Develop innovative propulsion technologies for small interceptors that enable future missile defense application architectures. 

DESCRIPTION: Seek innovative propulsion technologies for smaller interceptors to reduce total mass and volume while maintaining or improving performance. Additionally, innovative applications of propulsion and controls technologies should increase mission flexibility and safety. These small interceptors may range between 5 to 10 inches in diameter with sub-1000 lbf thrust for primary motors and sub-100 lbf thrust for control systems. These systems must also survive and operate through a range of environments (temperature, shock, and vibration). Propulsive elements may utilize and advance traditional solid and liquid propulsion or alternative solutions. For example, electric propulsion has high efficiency but the thrust levels are not adequate for missile defense applications. Advancements in propellant chemistries should improve specific performance, packaging, operational flexibility, and maintenance/support requirements. Propulsive control technologies including thrust vector control (vectored nozzles, jet vanes, liquid injection, etc.) or conventional cruciform divert systems, should be capable of high vectoring magnitudes and response time at reduced system power, mass, and volume footprint. Propulsion system component design and material advancements enabling performance, packaging, durability, manufacturability, and cost improvements are desired. Examples of such technologies include but are not limited to high strength, high stiffness and lightweight motor cases, liner/insulation materials and processes. 

PHASE I: Demonstrate proof of concept(s) of the proposed propulsion and controls technologies. Identify candidate methods, propellants, materials, designs and/or test capabilities. Develop interceptor geometry and performance models to validate achievement of the above-stated goals. Fabricate and characterize propellants and/or materials for component technologies or define proof of concept test. For propellant improvements, conduct research and experimental efforts to quantify potential benefits (e.g., impulse improvement, packaging improvement, storage and environmental benefits). Identify technology transition partner. 

PHASE II: Perform appropriate characterization and testing, e.g. sub-scale propulsion tests, accelerated long term storage and / or cyclic environmental load compatibility testing. Work with a technology transition partner to develop and demonstrate prototype designs that incorporate the technology in a relevant test environment. 

PHASE III: Conduct engineering and manufacturing development, test and evaluation and hardware qualification. Activities would include, but not be limited to, demonstration in a real system or operation in a system level test-bed with insertion planning for a missile defense interceptor. 


1: G. P. Sutton. 2001. "Rocket Propulsion Elements: an Introduction to the Engineering of Rockets." 7th Edition, John Wiley & Sons.

2:  C. Moskowitz. May 2013. "How Electric Spacecraft Could Fly NASA to Mars.", New York City, NY.

3:  B. Palaszewski. February 1997. "Propellant Technologies: A Persuasive Wave of Future Propulsion Benefits." NASA Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, OH.

4:  B.W. Gonser. 2013. "Modern Materials: Advances in Development and Applications." Elsevier.

5:  W.A. Figueiredo. July 2013. "High Thrust to Weight Bipropellant Reentry Vehicle Thrust Vector Control thru Mico-Miniaturization" AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference, Huntsville, AL.

KEYWORDS: Propulsion, Controls, Propellants, Materials, Packaging, Rocket Motor, Thrust Vector 


George Mantis 

(256) 450-1015 

Kevin Krueger 

(256) 955-4136 

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