Drag-modulation flight-control system options for planetary aerocapture

Zachary R. Putnam, Robert D. Braun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drag-modulation flight control may provide a simple method for controlling energy during aerocapture. Several drag-modulation flight-control system options are discussed and evaluated, including single-stage jettison, two-stage jettison, and continuously variable drag-modulation systems. Performance is assessed using numeric simulation with real-time guidance and targeting algorithms. Monte Carlo simulation is used to evaluate system robustness to expected day-of-flight uncertainties. Results indicate that drag-modulation flight control is an attractive option for aerocapture systems at Mars, where low peak heat rates enable the use of lightweight inflatable drag areas. Aerocapture using drag modulation at Titan is found to require large drag areas to limit peak heat rates to nonablative thermal-protection system limits or advanced lightweight ablators. The large gravity well and high peak heat rates experienced during aerocapture at Venus make drag-modulation flight control unattractive when combined with a nonablative thermal-protection system. Significantly larger drag areas or advances in fabric-based material thermal properties are required to improve feasibility at Venus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-150
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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