Systems Engineering Seminar

Mars Small-Spacecraft Human Exploration Resource Prospector with Aero-braking (SHERPA):
Demonstrating an End-to-End Mission to Phobos Distant Retrograde Orbit

Jaime Esper (a), Buzz Aldrin (b)

(a) NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt MD, USA -
(b) Chairman, Human Space Flight Institute, Space Port Houston, TX -

To view their paper summarizing a mission designed to carry out scientific exploration of Phobos, please visit: Twitter or Facebook

Presented by:
Dr. Jaime Esper, Code 592

Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Building 3 Auditorium


With encouragement and mentorship and at the behest of Dr. Buzz Aldrin, I will summarize an end-to-end mission design concept exploring the feasibility of using small satellites together with aero-capture technology to achieve Mars orbit insertion, and subsequent injection into a Phobos-stabilized (or distant retrograde) orbit. This location will arguably be an asset for the sustained human exploration and habitation of Mars, and presents a scientific platform for Martian system research. The science and mission objectives are to carry out a survey of the mineralogy and morphology of Phobos, to answer basic questions concerning its origin and formation, to test the cohesiveness of Phobos regolith, and to search for potential landing sites for future human or robotic spacecraft. The Mars Small-Spacecraft Human Exploration Resource Prospector with Aero-braking (SHERPA) spacecraft is based on a combination flight-tested prototype vehicle and instruments, and first principle sizing of consumables. The resulting system is fitted with an inflatable aerodynamic decelerator to effect aero-capture into a Mars elliptical orbit, on its way to achieving Phobos orbit. A computational fluid dynamics tool is used to analyze the flow-field and identify potential hot spots during aerodynamic flight. This work advocates for the use of small satellites to test out technologies and operational concepts used in sustained human exploration of Mars, and to carry out scientific exploration of the Mars system. Consistent with a systems engineering approach, this work combines elements of the NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Science Mission Directorate, and proposes a scenario for science acquisition, technology verification, trajectory validation, and in-situ resource exploration. We believe these type of missions are essential forerunners to human crewed missions to Mars.


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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