Pioneering Economical Space Propulsion

Team: 81


Area of Science: Astronautics


In an effort to improve efficiency in space exploration, we are seeking to determine cost efficiency of an arbitrary mission to a planet loosely based on Pluto any one of several current and proposed technologies as the means of propulsion. While it is apparent that any immediate mission with unlimited operational time would be most effectively completed using chemical propulsion for transport, we are attempting to identify the point at which such methods as solar sails, nuclear propulsion, and antimatter annihilation become more effective. These technologies are not currently in widespread use, yet may be employed in future missions to great advantage; the first two are currently on the cusp of use for numerous applications, and the third potentially holds the most efficient form of energy production ever envisioned if it can be employed on a macro-scale. With these considerations, it becomes of great value to understand where these devices become effective, especially as on the loosest of terms, this might give a rudimentary understanding for the means of energy production and application in earthbound applications.

The model, in C++, will seek to model the efficiency of this mission with numerous distinct variables and give clear, easy-to-interpret results to plot a basic idea of the value of these propulsion means. The properties of the environment will remain constant throughout each analysis; that is, the planets and solar system will retain identical devices throughout the program, regardless of the method. Furthermore, the parameters will remain constant for the organization developing the mission, and no conditions of inflation, outside competition, or collaboration beyond that which is necessary will be considered. This leaves a greater effect to the variables that are to be considered, including research, design and preparation, post-launch maintenance, and default likelihood. All of these parameters will themselves be analyzed against available time, resources, and unit/opportunity cost against other options. The program will allow specification of these parameters at startup and return numerical outputs that directly interpret the efficiency for each craft under the conditions.

Thus far, a plan has been established for the functions of the program and the basic layout established. We hope to establish with this base, a clear and concise program with maximum efficiency that solves the problem. The parameters for propulsion with Liquid Oxygen/Liquid Hydrogen, Hybrid Nuclear-Thermal/Nuclear-Electric, Antiproton-Catalyzed Micro-Fission, and Beamed Momentum Light Sails are being mapped out in preparation for programming. The base equations that apply to each of these methods have been written and preparations are being made to a preliminary, functional program. Once complete, this should give a clear understanding of the devices needed to make each method effective beyond the research and science fiction stage and place it in productive application. We hope to see a clear point that must be reached for the different methods to become efficient and applicable to daily life. This might serve as a springboard to delve into the development of these methods for any plausible purpose in the near future.

A short list of resources:

Chamberlain, Sally, et al. "Project Longshot: A Mission to Alpha Centauri", NASW-4435.

Diedrich, Benjamin, Charles Garner, and Manfred Leipold. "A Summary of Solar Sail Technology Developments and Proposed Demonstration Missions", JPC-99-2697, 1999.

Frisbee, Robert H. "Advanced Propulsion for the XXIst Century", AIAA-2003-2589, July 2003.

Hollerman, William Andrew. "The Physics of Solar Sails", For NASA Faculty Fellowship Program, 2002.

LaPointe, Michael R. "Antiproton Powered Propulsion with Magnetically Confined Plasma Engines", AIAA-89-2334, August 1989.

McMahon, Patrick B. "Antimatter Initiated Microfission/fusion (AIM) Space Propulsion", For NEEP 602 Nuclear Power in Space, May 2000.

Redheffer, R. M. and I. S. Sokolnikoff. Mathematics of Physics and Modern Engineering. USA: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1966.

Team Members:

  Garrett Lewis
  Zachary Rosenberg

Sponsoring Teacher: Neil McBeth