Aerobraking tethers for the exploration of the solar system
This thesis demonstrates the feasibility of using aerobraking tethers for the exploration of the solar system. The basic concept involves an orbiter and a probe connected by a thin tether. The probe is deployed into the atmosphere of a planet where aerodynamic drag decelerates it. The tension on the tether provides the braking effect on the orbiter, thus eliminating the need for a propulsive maneuver. During the maneuver the orbiter travels outside the atmosphere, and does not require heat shielding. After aerocapture has occurred, the tether may be severed allowing the probe to land on the planet, or the system may remain together and additional maneuvers can be performed to finalize the orbit.^ Initially a rigid rod model is used to demonstrate the superiority of the aerobraking technique over traditional chemical retro-rocket maneuvers in missions to the atmosphere-bearing planets. These findings are then confirmed with a more complex flexible model consisting of a collection of hinged rigid rods. Further reductions in the tether mass are realized through optimization techniques.^ The aerobraking tether is proven to be physically feasible, even when bending effects are included in the model. This provides the basis for a new class of exotic spacecraft for the exploration of the solar system with the potential for significant propellant savings. ^
Major Professor: James M. Longuski, Purdue University.