NASA Psyche is a space exploration mission that will study an asteroid, collecting data during a series of orbits. The spacecraft will reach and orbit the asteroid using a Hall-Effect Thruster (HET), which generates power by ionizing xenon gas. The thrust depends, in part, on the xenon gas supplied to both the anode and cathode of the HET. Therefore, a Xenon Flow Controller (XFC) is needed to precisely control xenon flow rates entering the thruster.
The main goal of this project was to design, build and test a flow controller that supplies the spacecraft with the fuel necessary to complete the mission.
High-pressure containers aboard the spacecraft are used to store the gas. The first stage of the XFC will regulate the pressure down to workable levels using a ball valve for pressure control. The XFC has two outlets connected to the anode and cathode of the thruster. Two proportional flow control valves precisely control the mass flow entering the anode and cathode. Sensors record flow properties at two important locations within the XFC. The XFC uses the flow diagnostic data to correct any deviation from target flow rates. Solar panels aboard the spacecraft supply the XFC with power at a standard value, which is then regulated to meet the needs of components. The XFC prototype housing will incorporate insulation layers to protect from the environment of space.