Assessment of aerocapture for orbit insertion of small satellites at Mars

G. Falcone, J. W. Williams, Z. R. Putnam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small satellites may provide a low-cost platform for targeted science investigations in the Mars system. With current technology, small satellites require ride shares with larger orbiters to capture into orbit, limiting the range of orbits available to small satellite mission designers. Successful development of an independent orbit insertion capability for small satellites, using aerocapture, would allow small satellite mission designers to choose the orbit most appropriate for a science investigation while enabling small satellite ride shares on any mission to Mars. A generic small satellite drag-modulation aerocapture system is assessed for use at Mars across a range of approach trajectories and destinations in the Mars system. Analyses include assessment of the sensitivity of the entry corridor size over different atmospheric conditions, a comparison of velocity-trigger and numerical predictor-corrector guidance schemes for drag modulation, and aerocapture flight performance assessment via Monte Carlo techniques. A special focus is placed on four baseline missions: a low-altitude Mars mapping orbit, Phobos and Deimos flyby/rendezvous, and areosynchronous orbit. Results indicate that aerocapture may decrease the orbit insertion system mass fraction by 30% or more with respect to fully propulsive options.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1689-1703
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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