Gravity-assist trajectories to Venus, Mars, and the ice giants: Mission design with human and robotic applications

Kyle M Hughes, Purdue University


Gravity-assist trajectories to Uranus and Neptune are found (with the allowance of impulsive maneuvers using chemical propulsion) for launch dates ranging from 2024 to 2038 for Uranus and 2020 to 2070 for Neptune. Solutions are found using a patched conic model with analytical ephemeris via the Satellite Tour Design Program (STOUR), originally developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Delivered payload mass is computed for all solutions for select launch vehicles, and attractive solutions are identified as those that deliver a specified amount of payload mass into orbit at the target body in minimum time. The best cases for each launch year are cataloged for orbiter missions to Uranus and Neptune. Solutions with sufficient delivered payload for a multi-planet mission (e.g. sending a probe to Saturn on the way to delivering an orbiter at Uranus) become available when the Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle is employed. A set of possible approach trajectories are modeled at the target planet to assess what (if any) adjustments are needed for ring avoidance, and to determine the probe entry conditions. Mars free-return trajectories are found with an emphasis on short flight times for application to near-term human flyby missions (similar to that of Inspiration Mars). Venus free-returns are also investigated and proposed as an alternative to a human Mars flyby mission. Attractive Earth-Mars free-return opportunities are identified that use an intermediate Venus flyby. One such opportunity, in 2021, has been adopted by the Inspiration Mars Foundation as a backup to the currently considered 2018 Mars free-return opportunity. Methods to establish spacecraft into Earth-Mars cycler trajectories are also investigated to reduce the propellant cost required to inject a 95-metric ton spacecraft into a cycler orbit. The establishment trajectories considered use either a V-infinity leveraging maneuver or low thrust. The V-infinity leveraging establishment trajectories are validated using patched conics via the STOUR program. Establishment trajectories that use low-thrust were investigated with particular focus on validating the patched-conic based solutions at instances where Earth encounter times are not negligible.




Longuski, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Aerospace engineering|Physics

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