The following research projects are currently underway in SSDL.
Prox-1 University Nanosat Mission
The Prox-1 mission will demonstrate automated trajectory control for on-orbit inspection of a deployed CubeSat. The Prox-1 spacecraft has been designed, fabricated and tested by a team of Georgia Tech undergraduate and graduate students who will also be responsible for mission operations. The 50 kg Prox-1 will deploy a 5 kg CubeSat, a version of The Planetary Society's LightSail solar sail spacecraft. Prox-1 will fly in close proximity to LightSail (50-150 m), demonstrating automated trajectory control based upon relative orbit determination using infrared imaging. Visible images of the LightSail solar sail deployment event will be acquired and downlinked by Prox-1. The Prox-1 mission will also provide first-time flight validation of advanced sun sensor technology, a small satellite propulsion system, and a lightweight thermal imager. The mission is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, through the University Nanosatellite Program (UNP). As the winner of the seventh UNP competition, Prox-1 will receive an Air Force launch slot as a secondary payload, with a planned launch date of August 2015.
Advanced robotic and human missions to Mars require landed masses well in excess of current capabilities. To safely land these large payloads on the Mars surface, the propulsive capability currently applied during subsonic descent must be extended to supersonic initiation velocities (i.e. Supersonic Retro-Propulsion (SRP)). However, to date, no rocket propulsion system has been operated while opposing a supersonic freestream. To address this deficiency, SSDL is working with NASA in the planning and execution of a series of hot-fire tests designed to mitigate the risks of real-gas aeroscience interactions, propulsion startup and transition to steady-state operation in flight-relevant conditions. Sponsored by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, this research is being performed in collaboration with researchers at the NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Langley Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators
Material advances enable consideration of hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators and a suite of new supersonic aerodynamic decelerators to remove constraints encountered by present entry, descent and landing technology. Relative to current rigid aeroshells and supersonic parachutes developed in the 1960s, these advanced systems improve timeline margin and surface elevation access while increasing payload mass. SSDL analysis capabilities focus on validated prediction the aeroelastic performance, structural integrity and aerodynamic stability of these devices. Research in this area is sponsored by the NASA Langley Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in support of the NASA Space Technology Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator and Low Density Supersonic Decelerator projects and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in support of a Mesospheric Dust Sample Return mission concept.
Rapid, High-altitude Atmospheric Drag Prediction
Atmospheric drag and solar radiation pressure are major sources of uncertainty in the accurate orbit propagation of resident space objects, while high-fidelity analysis of these forces and moments is computationally intensive. Symbolic manipulation techniques first applied within SSDL for the rapid calculation of analytic Newtonian hypersonic aerodynamics are being investigated for rapid and accurate analytic prediction of non-gravitational forces for generalized shapes in high-altitude regimes. This research is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory and is being conducted in collaboration with Professor Ryan Russell's research group at the University of Texas at Austin.
Unless specifically designed to survive reentry, space hardware entering the Earth's atmosphere from orbit will break up due to aerothermodynamic heating and loading. This breakup creates debris, some of which impacts the Earth's surface across a wide footprint, posing a hazard to people and property on the ground. Little data exists on the reentry burn and breakup process, making accurate safety predictions difficult and posing challenges to the design of future space systems. In collaboration with Terminal Velocity, LLC. and the Georgia Tech VentureLab, SSDL is developing a family of small reentry systems designed for data collection during reentry breakup of a host vehicle or the return of small payloads from space. Designed in 2013, RED-Data2, is considerably smaller and lighter than previous systems while offering significant operational lifetime and launch flexibility benefits. Red-Data2 structural and electrical test articles are presently in development.
Image Credit: Terminal Velocity Aerospace
RECONSO University Cubesat Mission
RECONnaissance of Space Objects (RECONSO) is a student-led cubesat participant in the current University Nanosatellite Program (UNP-8) competition supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). RECONSO will place an optical payload in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to enable low-cost unqueued space object detection and tracking. Inertial bearing and apparent magnitude measurement will be processed on-board and downlinked to Georgia Tech for further processing and distribution. This data will directly support efforts to mitigate the threat of space debris to national and international space assets by supplementing existing Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors.