Planetary Probe Entry, Descent, and Landing Systems: Technology Advancements, Cost, and Mass Evaluations with Application to Future Titan Exploration Missions
Bieber, Ben S.
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Heritage is the double-edged sword in space systems engineering. Reliance on heritage can ensure redundant success but will diminish advancements in science and technology that are integral to the success of future missions. Current reliance on heritage flight hardware is due to the absolute cost ceilings and short development timetables. Since the pre-phase A design stage mandates that system engineers establish complex and crucial decisions governing the mission design, system engineers would greatly benefit from an apples-to-apples comparison of the mass and cost benefits from different technologies across a range of performance parameters. The Cost and Mass Evaluation of Technology (CoMET) removes the “hand-waving” arguments in EDL technology benefits, and identifies possible points of diminishing returns for the advancement of specific technologies. Ultimately, CoMET: EDL is a design-to-cost model that answers the following question: Would further technology development just be “polishing the cannonball?” EDL sub-systems include, but are not limited to, aeroshell and thermal protection entry systems; parachute systems; powered descent and landing systems; power systems; and in-situ exploration systems of aerobots. CoMET explores the technology trades between mass and cost in the collaborative engineering environment regarding key technology areas and launch vehicle considerations. To demonstrate CoMET’s potential in confronting future mission concepts that require new operational approaches and technology advancements, a planetary probe mission is designed around the exploration of Saturn’s moon, Titan. In January 14, 2005, the planetary probe Huygens befell Titan’s surface in search of life’s origins. On the Titan-Huygens probe, the limitations of communications relay geometry and battery power vastly restricted the operational time, scientific goals, and total returns of this mission. Without the improvement of battery efficiency or the evolution of nuclear power systems, state of the art technology will always restrict planetary scientists to short-duration missions and miniscule data sampling. Furthermore, to capitalize on each planet’s or moon’s unique environment, future probes will require innovative systems of in-situ exploration, such as blimps for mobility in dense atmospheres. This paper explores mass, cost, and technology trade-offs of an airship among several EDL technologies within general mission requirements of a mission to Titan.