Solar electric and chemical propulsion for a Titan mission

Michael L. Cupples, Shaun E. Green, Victoria L. Coverstone, Benjamin B. Donahue

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Systems analyses were performed for a Titan Explorer Mission characterized by Earth-Saturn transfer stages using solar electric power generation and propulsion systems for primary interplanetary propulsion, as well as chemical propulsion for capture at Titan. An examination of a range of system factors was performed to determine their effect on the payload delivery capability to Titan. The effect of varying launch vehicle type, solar array power level, ion thruster number, specific impulse, trip time, and Titan capture stage chemical propellant choice was investigated. The major purpose was to demonstrate the efficacy of applying advanced ion propulsion system technologies like NASA's evolutionary xenon thruster (NEXT), coupled with state-of-the-art (SOA) and advanced chemical technologies to a Flagship class mission. This study demonstrated that a NASA design reference mission (DRM) payload of 406 kg could be successfully delivered to Titan using the baseline advanced ion propulsion system in conjunction with SOA chemical propulsion for Titan capture. In addition, the solar electric propulsion system (SEPS Vchemical system of this study is compared to an all-chemical NASA DRM. Results showed that the NEXT-based SEPS/chemical system was able to deliver the required payload to Titan in 5 years less transfer time and on a smaller launch vehicle than the SOA chemical option.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1083
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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