Systems Engineering Seminar

Hydrogen-Filled Titan Aerobot Balloon System (TABS) - Design and Feasibility

Presented by:
Dr. Jaime Esper/592

April 6, 2017 - 1:00 pm
Building 3 Auditorium


A mission concept is presented that uses a proven approach (akin to Venus' Vega mission) for deploying a Hydrogen-filled balloon in the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. The mission design presented here is a departure from the 2009 NASA/ESA consensus of using a Montgolfier (hot air) balloon for in-situ exploration. It is shown that such an alternative Hydrogen-balloon is not only feasible, but also presents a risk advantage during deployment (arguably the most critical part of operations), without extra complications arising from the use of lines and ties that can snatch or rupture the delicate balloon material during deployment. With on-board Hydrogen, and an auxiliary tank for replenishment during a six-month mission, TABS is capable of gathering up to 892 Mbits of data per day that includes optical, spectroscopy, and atmospheric remote and in-situ sensing. This data is transmitted directly to Earth with a steerable one-meter parabolic dish antenna. TABS entry vehicle is 628 kg with a total floating mass including gondola and buoyant system of 242 kg (both numbers include a 30% contingency). TABS can be l aunched in a Space X Falcon 9 rocket, with a 30% performance margin reserve (on top of the 30% contingency). Even after contingency and margin, there is enough mass and volume left in the launch vehicle for other co-manifested spacecraft, so international cooperation is not only built-into TABS, the flight can also accommodate the addition of separate partner contributions.


Dr. Esper is a Senior Aerospace Technologist, Flight Systems Designer and Systems Engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He is the Chief Engineer of the NASA Space Geodesy Project, Technical Project Manager of the IceCube Earth Science Mission, and Principal Investigator in GSFC's Internal Research and Development CAPE/MIRCA, a Cubesat-sized planetary entry vehicle. Dr. Esper has 30 years of combined leadership experience in areas covering advanced space science missions and system concepts, spacecraft systems and technologies, instrumentation, spacecraft design, space mission processing and operations, launch vehicle Range operations, and planetary mission and entry probe design, analysis, and technology development. Dr. Esper's interest in planetary exploration has centered in the design of mission technologies that enable cost-effective, focused investigations. He holds degrees in Physics (B.S.) and Astronomy (M.S.) from the University of Florida, Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering (M.S.) from The George Washington University, and Aerospace Engineering (Dr. - Eng.) from the University of Stuttgart in Germany. He is author of over 30 publications, and 1 patent (pending) on thermal protection system material, specifically designed for Titan entry vehicles.


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