Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering

Department

Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair

Dr. Bogdan Udrea

First Committee Member

Dr. Hamilton Hagar

Second Committee Member

Dr. Eric Perrell

Abstract

In 2010, NASA announced that its new vision is to support private space launch operations. It is anticipated that this new direction will create the need for new and innovative ideas that push the current boundaries of space exploration and contain the promise of substantial gain, both in research and capital.

The purpose of the study is to plan and estimate the feasibility of a mission to visit a number of near Earth asteroids (NEAs). The mission would take place before the end of the 21st century, and would only use commercially available technology. Throughout the mission design process, while holding astronaut safety paramount, it was the goal to maximize the return while keeping the cost to a minimum. A mission of the nature would appeal to the private space industry because it could be easily adapted and set into motion.

The mission design was divided into three main parts; mission timeline, vehicle design and power sources, with emphasis on nuclear and solar electric power, were investigated. The timeline and associated trajectories were initially selected using a numerical estimation and then optimized using Satellite Tool Kit (STK) 9.s's Design Explorer Optimizer [1]. Next, the spacecraft was design using commercially available parts that would support the mission requirements. The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) was and instrumental piece in maximizing the number of NEAs visited. Once the spacecraft was designed, acceptable power supply options were investigated. The VASIMR VX-200 requires 200 kilowatts of power to maintain thrust. This creates the need for a substantial power supply that consists of either a nuclear reactor of massive solar arrays.

STK 9.1's Design Explorer Optimizer was able to create a mission time line that allowed for the exploration of seven NEAs in under two years, while keeping the total mission ΔV under 71 kilometers per second. Based on these initial findings, it is determined that a mission of this nature is feasible and would could greatly benefit the private space industry.

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