On-orbit depot architectures using contingency propellant

Koki Ho, Katherine Gerhard, Austin K. Nicholas, Alexander J. Buck, Jeffrey Hoffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper introduces new concepts of on-orbit propellant depots for human space exploration based on contingency propellant. The proposed architecture is useful in that it does not require separate depot filling missions, whereas conventional depot architectures require large "prior investment" type missions for depot filling before gaining the returns. Two concepts for this type of depots are shown: "steady-state" architecture and "stockpiling" architecture. In the "steady-state" mode, the depot always keeps the contingency propellant in orbit as well as the reused habitat module. In each mission, the vehicles collect the habitat and the contingency propellant from the depot in orbit on its way to the destination, perform the maintenance for the habitat, and leave the habitat and the unused contingency propellant in orbit on its way back. In the "stockpiling" mode, on the other hand, the habitat module is reused in the same way, but the depot accumulates propellant so that a later mega-mission can carry larger payload. Numerical results show the usefulness of the proposed architectures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-226
Number of pages10
JournalActa Astronautica
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Propellant depot
  • Space logistics
  • Space systems
  • Space transportation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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