Payload mass improvements of supersonic retropropulsive flight for human class missions to Mars

Maxwell H Fagin, Purdue University


Supersonic retropropulsion (SRP) is the use of retrorockets to decelerate during atmospheric flight while the vehicle is still traveling in the supersonic/hypersonic flight regime. In the context of Mars exploration, subsonic retropropulsion has a robust flight heritage for terminal landing guidance and control, but all supersonic deceleration has, to date, been performed by non-propulsive (i.e. purely aerodynamic) methods, such as aeroshells and parachutes. Extending the use of retropropulsion from the subsonic to the supersonic regime has been identified as an enabling technology for high mass humans-to-Mars architectures. However, supersonic retropropulsion still poses significant design and control challenges, stemming mainly from the complex interactions between the hypersonic engine plumes, the oncoming air flow, and the vehicle’s exterior surface. These interactions lead to flow fields that are difficult to model and produce counter intuitive behaviors that are not present in purely propulsive or purely aerodynamic flight. This study will provide an overview of the work done in the design of SRP systems. Optimal throttle laws for certain trajectories will be derived that leverage aero/propulsive effects to decrease propellant requirements and increase total useful landing mass. A study of the mass savings will be made for a 10 mT reference vehicle based on a propulsive version of the Orion capsule, followed by the 100 mT ellipsoid vehicle assumed by NASA’s Mars Design Reference Architecture.




Grant, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering

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