Michigan on team selected for $15M NASA institute to investigate testing of advanced propulsion concepts

The NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate has selected the Joint Advanced Propulsion Institute (JANUS) to explore high power electric propulsion systems for human exploration. Michigan Aerospace alumnus Mitchell Walker of the Georgia Institute of Technology will be the principal investigator and director. U-M Assistant Professor Benjamin Jorns will serve as co-director.

The Joint Advanced Propulsion Institute (JANUS) is a newly established university-led NASA Space Technology Research Institute. Its goal is to develop strategies and specific methodologies to surmount limitations in ground testing of high-power electric propulsion systems and to improve characterization of the wear and performance of these devices representative of in-space operation. The five lead centers for the institute include Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, UIUC, UCLA, and Colorado State.

Portrait of Mitchell Walker

Headed by U-M aerospace alumnus and Associate Chair for Graduate Studies in the School of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech, Mitchell Walker, JANUS will use physics-based modeling, high-power thruster testing, novel diagnostic development, and fundamental experiments to advance mitigation strategies to overcome the limits of current ground testing capabilities. As one of the lead institutions of JANUS, the University of Michigan will be primarily responsible for studying the role of pressure and electrical effects.

The institute will leverage the expertise of U-M faculty in Hall effect thrusters, gridded ion thrusters, plasma theory and diagnostics, and uncertainty quantification. Aerospace Assistant Professor Benjamin Jorns of the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory (PEPL) will be the co-director of the overall institute. Other key contributors from Michigan faculty include PEPL founder Dean Gallimore, Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Alex Gorodetsky, and Nuclear Engineering Professor John Foster. “U-M faculty are poised to make seminal contributions to our understanding of pressure effects and plume dynamics. The resultant system-level models will provide the framework for extrapolating results from ground tests with finite facility pressure to the space environment,” stated Walker.  

H9_3: The 9-kW class H9 Hall effect thruster firing at the Large Vacuum Test Facility at the University of Michigan. This is one of the types of electric propulsion JANUS will investigate.
LVTF-render: The Large Vacuum Test Facility (LVTF) at the University of Michigan. This facility is one of the largest vacuum facility of its kind at any university in the nation (9 m long and 6 m in diameter). It will be a key testbed for JANUS.
Dean Alec Gallimore and Prof. Benjamin Jorns, co-directors of the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory, stand in the Large Vacuum Test Facility (LVTF) at the University of Michigan.
Benjamin Jorns, Professor of Aerospace Engineering

Jorns shares this enthusiasm, “We are very excited to be part of this team and are looking forward to answering the big question of ‘how’ you test these next-generation thrusters. This is a critical step toward advancing this technology for deep space exploration.” 

NASA has selected researchers from premier universities in all different disciplines to collaborate on solving problems in electric propulsion, ground testing, and atmospheric entry systems modelling with their NSTRI. The results of this research will aid in space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.


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