Systems Engineering Seminar

Planetary Entry Vehicle Prototyping using CubeSats
(or how to progress on a shoe-string budget and hope to play with the big guys): The Micro Return Capsule (MIRCA)

Presented by:
Jaime Esper, Code 592

Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Building 3 Auditorium


Imagine standing on the surface of an alien planet or satellite. High in the sky, a soft breeze is interrupted by the whistling sound of a tiny probe sent from Earth to study the atmosphere, or to land on some high-value target on the surface. Now imagine that this probe is followed by a dozen others, all entering in distributed locations throughout the geographic landscape. These probes are systematically and methodically being released from an orbiting spacecraft, perhaps having arrived months in advance. Or maybe the probes themselves are released systematically months in advance by and approaching mother-ship. Although probes have been sent to celestial neighbors before, what is unique is that these new vehicles had their genesis on the highly popular Cubesat specification… My dream is to make spaceflight so mundane, we can actually routinely leave the bounds of our planet to explore en masse our solar system. For that, we must create systems that allow us to bring space exploration within the realm of our everyday lives. No longer exquisite systems but just good enough, where failure is an option… and a new opportunity.


Dr. Jaime Esper is a Senior Aerospace Technologist, Flight Systems Designer and Systems Engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He is the former Chief Engineer of the NASA Space Geodesy Project, former Technical Project Manager of the IceCube Earth Science Mission, and current Principal Investigator in GSFC’s CAPE/MIRCA, a Cubesat-sized planetary entry vehicle. Dr. Esper has extensive 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. He is a full member of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).


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