36th DPS Meeting, 8-12 November 2004
Session 10 Advanced Propulsion
Special Session, Tuesday, November 9, 2004, 10:30am-12:00noon, Lewis

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[10.04] ISP Aerocapture Technology

B. James (NASA MSFC)

Aerocapture technology development is a vital part of the NASA In-Space Propulsion Program (ISP), which is managed by NASA Headquarters and implemented at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Aerocapture is a flight maneuver designed to aerodynamically decelerate a spacecraft from hyperbolic approach to a captured orbit during one pass through the atmosphere. Small amounts of propulsive fuel are used for attitude control and periapsis raise only. This technique is very attractive since it permits spacecraft to be launched from Earth at higher verlocities, reducing trip times. The aerocapture technique also significantly reduces the overall mass of the propulsion systems. This allows for more science payload to be added to the mission. Alternatively, a smaller launch vehicle could be used, reducing overall mission cost.

Aerocapture can be realized in various ways. It can be accomplished using rigid aeroshells, such as those used in previous mission efforts (like Apollo, the planned Aeroassist Flight Experiment and the Mars Exploration Rovers). Aerocapture can also be achieved with inflatable deceleration systems. This family includes the use of a potentially lighter, inflatable aeroshell or a large, trailing ballute a combination parachute and balloon made of durable, thin material and stowed behind the vehicle for deployment. Aerocapture utilizing inflatable decelerators is also derived from previous efforts, but will necessitate further research to reach the technology readiness level (TRL) that the rigid aeroshell has achieved.

Results of recent Aerocapture Systems analysis studies for small bodies and giant planets show that aerocapture can be enhancing for most missions and absolutely enabling for some mission scenarios. In this way, Aerocapture could open up exciting, new science mission opportunities.

If you would like more information about this abstract, please follow the link to www.inspacepropulsion.com. This link was provided by the author. When you follow it, you will leave the Web site for this meeting; to return, you should use the Back comand on your browser.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: Bonnie.F.James@nasa.gov

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 36 #4
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