Space Mission Design: To Infinity and Beyond!

Alex-2016 Alex, Astronautical, Viterbi Class 0 Comments

This semester, I am taking my final undergraduate class: ASTE 421, Space Mission Design. So far, ASTE 421 has been an amazing experience and a fitting end to four years at USC.

Space Mission Design is the capstone senior design course for the Astronautical Engineering degree. On day one, I was handed a Request for Proposal (RFP) and told to get to work! Our class’s RFP was an interesting one: design a precursor mission to a near Earth asteroid (NEA) to investigate the asteroid’s resources and physical characteristics. The precursor mission would prepare for a future mission that would seek to move the asteroid into a lunar orbit, which would allow for resource mining and astronaut exploration. The designed mission had to employ a small satellite concept (less than 100 kg) and cost less than $100 million.

Aside from the aforementioned parameters, there were no rules. Now, I am tasked with making the major decisions. I need to determine what asteroid to target, and why! What science mission will landing or orbiting that asteroid accomplish? I will need to pick the propulsion system to reach the asteroid, and the telecommunication system to transmit data back to Earth. I will also need to provide a cost estimate for the spacecraft by referencing the costs of past missions.

At this point, my asteroid is chosen (2012 UV136, if you’re curious). The satellite will consist of an orbiter and lander, mimicking the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission of 2014. The orbiter and lander will work together to determine the asteroid’s density, heavy ion composition, and abundance of water, carbon dioxide, and methane. My chosen launch vehicle, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will expel the satellite from Earth’s gravity well. I affectionately named my satellite Yeezy, after Kayne West. Below is a schematic of my mission!

Schematic of my satellite mission

Schematic of my satellite mission

Fitting for a senior design course, ASTE 421 is a culmination of four years of coursework. ASTE 330 (Introduction to Spacecraft Systems) gave me the knowledge required to design the satellite’s thermal, power, and telecommunication subsystems. ASTE 280 (Space Environments) taught me the basics of orbital mechanics and Hohmann Transfer Orbits. I used this branch of dynamics to estimate the propellant required for Yeezy to reach 2012 UV136. I could only design the attitude control system after taking ASTE 480 (Spacecraft Controls), and the propulsion system would be hopeless without ASTE 470 (Spacecraft Propulsion). Last semester, I developed a bipropellant liquid rocket engine with AME 441, senior projects. My hands-on experience in AME 441 helped me answer a basic question regarding Yeezy: could Yeezy be a feasible product, or just a theoretical project? ASTE 421 is extremely gratifying, as I am proving to myself the depth of my knowledge gained in college. There is no way I could have developed Yeezy four years ago!

Lastly, and certainly most importantly, I love ASTE 421 because I really enjoy mission design. As I start looking at career opportunities, ASTE 421 and mission design opens several career doors I did not even realize existed. I now have the experience to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designing rover and satellite missions to Mars, Saturn’s moons, and beyond. Using mission design experience, I could also try my hand at designing and developing concept airplanes, both commercial and military, for Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The possibilities are endless!

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates on Yeezy and ASTE 421. I will keep you posted on my progress!




Astronautical Engineering, Class of 2016, Learn more on his profile here!

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