A Systems Analysis was completed to determine the feasibility, benefit and risk of an aeroshell aerocapture system for Neptune and to identify technology gaps and technology performance goals. The systems analysis includes the following disciplines: science; mission design; aeroshell configuration; interplanetary navigation analyses; atmosphere modeling; computational fluid dynamics for aerodynamic performance and aeroheating environment; stability analyses; guidance development; atmospheric flight simulation; thermal protection system design; mass properties; structures; spacecraft design and packaging; and mass sensitivities. Results show that aerocapture is feasible and performance is adequate for the Neptune mission. Aerocapture can deliver 1.4 times more mass to Neptune orbit than an all-propulsive system for the same launch vehicle and results in a 3-4 year reduction in trip time compared to all-propulsive systems. Enabling technologies for this mission include TPS manufacturing; and aerothermodynamic methods for determining coupled 3-D convection, radiation and ablation aeroheating rates and loads.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Langley Research Center