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Refuelable Atmospheric Dipper and Planetary Landing Concept

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Conference Paper

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Proceedings of the AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE JPC Conference

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The refuelable Dipping Concept (RDC) is the solution to problems in which atmospheric drag makes satellite or probe excursions into such regions extremely detrimental to these spacecraft lifespans, or to science and commercial quests where significant orbital changes are required such as multiple landings and large orbital plane changes. The concept is explored through a series of mission scenarios of increasing complexity. The first three missions are based on present day needs of the space science community. These missions, in order of complexity, are:

Sun-Earth Connection Science

An Atmospheric-Ionospheric Dipper (AID); A Sampler and Atmosphere-Ionosphere Deep Dipper (SAIDD); and a Planetary Atmosphere-Ionosphere Dipper (PAID).

Solar System Science

A Multi-Landing Sample Return System (MLSRS)

Commercial Space System

An Orbital Satellite Recovery and Trash Removal System (OSRTRS).

In each case, the scenario is the same. A very sophisticated scientific and technological satellite is built to carry out its dipping or landing mission, but because of limited fuel capacity its useful life is ended long before the science mission is completed or technology life span is reached. This makes such a mission extremely costly per science or technology return. However, each such satellite or lander if refuelable would rapidly change the cost effectiveness. An orbital mother ship, an orbital gas station, is needed.

Two motivational examples presently exist for this refuelable capability. The NASA Sun-Earth Connection (SEC) Solar-Terrestrial Probe (STP) mission Geospace Electrodynamic Connections (GEC) is planning to dip a constellation of 4 satellites to 130 km to carry out unprecedented science observations. In its two year projected life only 12 ten day periods of deep dipping are possible i.e., less than 20% of all orbits. At the end of the twelfth deep dipping period the on board fuel is exhausted and four perfectly good dipping satellites are placed in their higher altitude parking orbit! The second example mission that NASA is developing is the collection of rock samples from the planet Mars. Technologically the philosophy of one lander per rock sample set is a very costly one. If the sample module on return to the transfer orbit was refueled, perhaps reattached to a landing power module, the same lander could recover multiple samples.
The RDC need development or implementation of several technologies. Automated rendezvous and docking between unmanned spacecraft. Transfer of fuel from a mother spacecraft to a dipper/lander satellite. On orbit handling of a fuel dump, an automated orbital gas station.


AIAA 2001-3734

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