CSU grad central to launch of NASA Dawn mission
July 9, 2007
Colorado State University mechanical engineering graduate John Brophy, a project element manager for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is in the spotlight as JPL readies to launch its Dawn mission from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Mission focused on protoplanets
The Dawn mission will characterize the conditions and processes present during the earliest formation of the solar system by investigating two of the largest protoplanets - Ceres and Vesta - in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The mission was scheduled to launch June 30, but has been delayed by weather.
UPDATE: It was again delayed on July 9, and rescheduled for Sept.
CSU connection to ion thruster technology
Brophy was a student of Colorado State Professor Paul Wilbur who has been credited by NASA for helping build confidence in the success of the ion thruster in the Deep Space 1 mission in 1998. A dozen new technologies, including the first use of an ion thruster for primary spacecraft propulsion, were on board that mission.
Wilbur has trained many of the engineers working for NASA in the area of ion propulsion.
"We've waited a long time for this," Brophy said in a brief interview from Florida Friday. "When I was a graduate student with Paul Wilbur, he always said what we need is a real science mission. Now we have one. It's very exciting although we're waiting for the weather to cooperate."
A more fuel efficient system
Brophy leads the Ion Propulsion System for the mission, a more fuel-efficient, low-thrust alternative to regular chemical rockets used by JPL to help propel the rocket further into space.
In Brophy's own words: "In a regular, conventional rocket, performance is limited because there is only so much energy available in the un-reacted propellants carried by the rocket. With an Ion Propulsion System, we use an external source of energy; in this case, the sun. We collect energy using large solar rays, and convert that energy into electricity. We run that electricity over to the thrusters and add it to the propellant, and now we can add as much energy to the propellant as we want. And we can shoot the propellant out the back at a much higher speed and that makes the spacecraft much more fuel efficient. We can go to more interesting, harder-to-get-to destinations by using this propulsion system."
More about Brophy
More about Brophy's role in the Dawn mission can be found at http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/people/brophy/interview.asp.
Brophy addressed Colorado State's College of Engineering graduates at commencement in December 2006. He obtained his master's and doctoral degrees from Colorado State in 1980 and 1984.
Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone Number: (970) 491-2336