Saturday, July 08, 2006

Mars for Less: End to end!

I was relatively Orbiter-free during my two weeks in Australia, but Andy McSorley and Mark Paton have continued to work on the Mars for Less project for Orbiter and now have nearly completed all the esssential 3D and space flight modeling. They've done an amazing job on this project (we will release this as a free add-on for Orbiter in the next couple of months).

Mark has done extensive EDL (entry-descent-landing) testing, including aerocapture into Mars orbit, all the way to entry and landing, using two parachutes to limit entry loading to 3g (using only one chute allowed 5g, probably too much for astronauts who have been in artificial Mars gravity for six months - the tether-based rotational pseudo-G can be simulated in Orbiter too). Andy has worked out the Earth return part of the mission, launching the ERV from Mars to a parking orbit, trans-Earth injection (TEI), precision guidance back to Earth for aerocapture into low Earth orbit. Andy has put together a mission "storyboard" page of Orbiter screen shots on his web site (sample pic above, ERV departing from Vallis Dao).

This is all good fun if you're an Orbiter and Mars fan, of course, but the impressive thing to me is that Orbiter can model such a mission in sufficient detail to simulate aerocapture/EDL and even measure G loads and other flight data. This is why we are calling it "virtual prototyping of human Mars missions" for a paper we will present in a few weeks at the Mars Society Conference in Washington, DC. The MSC agenda is now on line (PDF). In addition to the Orbiter MFL virtual prototyping paper (Irving-McSorley-Paton-Bonin, Saturday, August 5 at 4 pm), one other MarsDrive related paper is scheduled, Regan Walker on the Drive to Mars (Saturday at 5 pm).

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