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MMAE Distinguished Alumni Seminar - Dr. John Brophy - Ion Propulsion’s Present and Future Impact on Space Exploration

Event Date 

March 23, 2018 - 3:15pm to 4:15pm


John T. Rettaliata Engineering Center
Room 104
10 West 32nd Street
Chicago, IL 60616


Armour College of Engineering's Mechanical, Materials & Aerospace Engineering Department will welcome Dr. John Brophy, Principal Engineer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to present his lecture, Ion Propulsion's Present and Future Impact on Space Exploration. The seminar is a part of MMAE Distinguished Alumni Seminar Series.


Ion propulsion has been be used on six deep-space science missions—Deep Space 1, SMART-1, Hayabusa 1, LISA Pathfinder, Hayabusa 2, and Dawn—and it is being used on over a hundred commercial communication satellites. The next robotic science missions to use ion propulsion could be NASA's mission to the metal world (16) Psyche and ESA's BebiColombo mission to Mercury. All of this activity is driven by the inescapable reality quantified by the rocket equation, and yet ion propulsion has so far just scratched the surface of what it can do. This talk will discuss how we got to this point and how advanced ion propulsion technologies have the potential to impact an impressive range of humanity's future space activities including: rapid transportation throughout the solar system; human missions beyond low-Earth orbit; planetary defense; asteroid mining; gravitational wave experiments; and even interstellar precursor missions.


Dr. John Brophy

John Brophy received a B.S. in Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1978 and an M.S. and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University in 1980 and 1984, respectively. In 1991 he led a U.S. team in the evaluation of Hall-effect ion thruster technology in the Soviet Union leading to the wide-spread adoption of this technology in the West. In 1992 he initiated the NSTAR Project that resulted in the successful demonstration of ion propulsion on NASA’s Deep Space 1. He was responsible for the delivery of the Ion Propulsion System for NASA’s Dawn mission launched in 2007, resulting in the first-ever use of ion propulsion on a NASA deep-space science mission. In 2011 he co-led the Asteroid Retrieval Mission study at Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies that resulted in NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission and became the mission’s chief engineer. He is a JPL Fellow and an AIAA Fellow. He was awarded the Ernst Stuhlinger Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Electric Propulsion in 2015 and the AIAA Wyld Propulsion award in 2017.

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