Archive for the ‘Spacecraft’ Category

NASA of the sixties reminds me of the Armadillo Aerospace of today.
Drop tests, I think an F-111 model and various parachute, parawing and Rogallo wing things.

Airbags, landing rockets, landing gears (Dyna-Soar like rig)

Thank you NASA CRgis for another video blog day, one of many more to come!

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Inspired by Michel Van (not Scott Lowther as mentioned earlier) at Secret Projects, who ran into the Gemini inflatable Rogallo wing test videos that are now available (not embeddable so linked only). There are parafoil systems for airdropping stuff, though they don’t seem to be doing flares or line pulls to soften the impact:

And if somebody says parafoils are not maneuverable, I give you a Russian self built RC parafoil:

Speaking of rocketry, a member from the local hybrid group said they have found out the probable cause of roll control problems: the forward fins that were put on the rocket for roll control cause huge vortices when deflected, so that they effect the main fins far aft and the effect might be the opposite from intended.

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Or The Space Game, by ESA.

The Space Game Screenshot

Minimize delta vee by moving the planets around (this changes the probe's arrival time at the planet). This shows my best solution so far, with some playing one evening, about 13 km/s

This is a nice javascript webpage where a probe is shot from Earth to Jupiter with gravity assists at Venus (twice), Earth and Mars. You try to achieve the lowest propulsive delta vee. You decide when the spacecraft arrives at each encounter and the program basically calculates the rest. It’s quite a nifty little piece of Javascript, the future of web applications is like this. It works fine with Chrome on Linux at least. Probably IE will have problems but who uses that anyway?

I’m ranked at #39 at 12.74 km/s… Far behind the gurus who get below 10 km/s readings! There are apparently some prizes for the top three, but I think people are in it for the fun of it.

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Well, scaling seems to be my pet issue. I recently wrote something not entirely well reasoned in a comment at Paul Breed’s. (For some reason Chrome complains about blogrolling.com malware there so continue if you’re sure you’re safe.)
So let’s make it better. (A word of caution though, I’m quite sleep deprived now.)
For those who like to jump into conclusions, it’s going to be like this all over again.

Assume a pressure fed rocket first stage has a certain propellant chemistry, tank and thus chamber pressure and must operate in the atmosphere, hence has a certain exit pressure (0.1 MPa or 1 bar or 15 psi is the optimal). Then it has certain thrust per nozzle area.

Now, the rocket needs thrust to lift off. If we assume a constantly scalable shape, its mass will be base area times length times density.

Since the maximum fittable nozzle exit plane also depends on the base area, we find that for a certain area, the rocket can only have so much mass – or that the rocket has a maximum density times length parameter. If we assume the propellants have been picked early on, density is set and the rocket only has a height constraint.  Each pressure and propellant chemistry basically has a “characteristic length” that can’t be exceeded. Otherwise it can’t lift off.

The higher the exhaust velocity, the smaller the nozzle, so raising chamber pressure reduces the needed nozzle size per thrust and the rocket can be lengthened.

For small rockets, I’d hunch that they have little length and thus they don’t really have to worry about this. They can be as thin (and thus long) as practical, to try to avoid drag losses.

For upper stages, the thrust to weight needed is less and the weight even less so it’s even less of a problem – except that the expansion ratios can be huge since there’s no back pressure anymore. Still, with small rockets, pretty huge expansions might be possible without having much problems because the second stage is very small (=also short) anyway and thus there’s little mass per nozzle exit plane area.

On really tall rockets like Saturn V, the thrust per base area has to be huge, hence it had to have those base extensions for the corner engines (note how the N-1 had a conical shape with a wider base, the engines had a bit higher pressure but the upper stages were kerosene – these cancel out a bit but the base of the rocket had some empty space) . Similarly with STS, putting so much thurst on the tiny orbiter’s tail required high chamber pressures and some tail shaping

I don’t have any numbers handy, but if we assume a 10 m tall 1000 kg/m^3 density (water) rocket, then it has 10,000 kg per m^2 or the thrust required for a 20 m/s² acceleration is 200,000 N/m^2. This is easily achievable. With an exhaust velocity of 2000 m/s, the mass flow needs to be 100 kg/(s*m²) to produce that thrust. Again with the exhaust velocity that mass flow means a density of 0.05 kg/m^3. Air’s density is 1.2 kg/m^3 at 300 K, so that’s 20 times less dense which means hotter, the density is like hot air at 6000 K. Though the molecules might be mostly lighter OH instead of N2 and O2, making that rocket exhaust at 3000 K for the density. Rocket exhaust isn’t that hot – it’s cooler and denser and thus more thrust per unit area.

For a second stage we can look at the pressure fed AJ-10 from Delta 2: 1.7 meters diameter (certainly constrained), 40 kN of thrust. For a T/W of 1, density of 1000 kg/m^3, we get 4 tonnes and 1.7 meters of depth. Quite a stubby stage with a roughly spherical tank! Isp is 321 s. The real Delta II second stage weighs 7 tons and the payload is some too, but reusable rockets won’t have such high performance first stages (nevermind solids!), so they might need more T/W.

Oh, BTW, I assume three stages to orbit for pressure feds though I haven’t looked it that closely.  Mass ratios and ISP:s I’ve only hunched.

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Rand Simberg talks about impedance matching. So I’d like to make a post of my comment there (I’ve always wondered why this obvious alternative gets mentioned so little…)

What to do when you arrive at Mars or Earth with your solar electric propelled vessel?

So, the problem with most low fuel demand velocity change schemes is that they only give slow accelerations. Low fuel high velocity change means solar or nuclear electric propulsion and aerocapture mainly.

High delta vee aerobraking is hard to do in one pass – it gets dangerous because of atmospheric variability and potentially other reasons.

Simple: detach a small capsule with the humans that goes directly to the surface (with only days of life support) and leave the untended craft to do multi-pass aerobraking. Hitting van Allen belts a few more times or taking a long time doesn’t matter that much with no humans onboard.

You could also potentially ultimately leave the long distance craft at some Lagrange point instead of LEO. (Cue some clever and complex maneuvers to save fuel – maneuvers that take long.)

Something similar could also be done when a long distance stack is assembled in LEO: send the humans there only after it’s through the belts. They can go with a smallish capsule again. Potentially at some Lagrange point, or in space without any fixed reference, just along the way. It could be dangerous though if the capsule doesn’t have much life support.

Many of these things have potential delta vee penalties as well as timing inflexibilities, but they could have enough other benefits that they should be considered.

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For the ISS. The shuttle would transfer unused hypergolics to the ISS propulsion module. ATV as well.

ISS Propulsion Module CAD


It was canceled and instead Progress and ATV are used directly for most boosting. Nevertheless the technology could be useful in developing hypergolic propellant depots.

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I do appreciate that the model is so different from Apollo that it takes time and thought to understand what it is about; I did not see it at first myself — but once I got past my preconceptions, I found the logic of this approach overwhelming. This is simply what exploration looks like in a world where the budget doesn’t double for a few years and then halve again. You build a piece at a time and as soon as you can start doing things with the pieces, you do so.

Jeff Greason about the Flexible Path, commenting on Rand Simberg’s superiorly excellent Popular Mechanics piece.

Rand Simberg in the article:

I would claim that in fact, this is the most visionary space policy that the nation has ever had, including Apollo. It finally, forthrightly declares a national goal of large numbers of humanity living off planet, with many of them going on excursions into the solar system, and it harnesses the vital element of private enterprise and competition to make it happen in a way that will drive costs down instead of up.

May I add that yours truly proposed something of a flexible path of his own in 2006, though only for launching.

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NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon are dead. So are the rockets being designed to take them there — that is, if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Sayeth Orlando Sentinel.

Haven’t followed NASA’s latest movements. The Augustine panel had some potential but stuff seems to have withered down. The organization seems to be a wannabe monument builder without a job. People might want something more practical than monuments, at least I hope they would. Even when NASA has such huge talent and competence in many areas, it fails to function as a sensible whole in defining strategic human space flight. And then there are the legacy issues. One of which is that of Mike Griffin.

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I always had a different idea compared to the one Jon and Kirk posted, (Kirk Sorensen is now a contributor at Jon Goff’s place, I’m afraid having such top men in the same place might cause a awesomity criticality event). I assume this idea is probably found in some old NASA report from the sixties or seventies, like most things are.

Rendezvous is mostly a 4D problem: 3 space dimensions and time (some more if you take into account that proper attitude must be maintained as well, but that is assumed to be trivial). If you can take out two space dimensions, the problem should simplify greatly. This is possible with the following arrangement:

A boom at both the target and the vehicle, placed at right angles (and both at a right angle to the approaching vector). Basically, this should reduce positioning accuracy requirements hugely. The booms could be short barrels (even inflatable), or really long semi-rigid wires or composite girders or whatever. Depends on design aims.

When they contact, they will both slide until one boom is caught by a hook at the end of the other boom. Then one boom will slide through the hook until the hooks contact. From there on it’s a known geometry. You can reel in the boom, if it is flexible, or just slide it if it is rigid, and get both craft to a configuration you want, for either ordinary robot arm capture for berthing (as demonstrated by HTV, many station modules and Shuttle MPLM:s) or traditional docking (Soyuz/Progress/Shuttle/ATV).

This concept has some problems. For example whipping the target or the vehicle with an improper attitude / position boom. In the pictured boom configuration, approaches should have an offset always to one side. Alternatively one could have multiple booms. That way it wouldn’t matter on which side the rendezvous error would be. Also, the target could have a V shaped bow to avoid having the vehicle hitting dead center with a boom.

Another issue is if there is some kind of failure in the rendezvous, like too high velocity, the boom might rip off. That would result in a very dangerous object co-orbiting with the vehicles. This would be a very bad day for something like the ISS or a propellant depot.

One way to avoid this is to have the hooks have a mechanism to give way if the load gets too high. Another more outlandish is to have a weaker boom attachment in the vehicle. This would sever its boom and leave it hanging to the target in case of a problem.

This all was motivated to make unmanned rendezvous much easier to enable cheap propellant depot tankers. As all know, ATV and HTV are hugely expensive and high dry mass systems. Something like a Centaur or any basic “dumb” already existing restartable upper stage with just mostly a working attitude control system (including a star tracker) could be used instead, if some out of the box thinking is deployed. Most of the smarts should be in the target that is launched only once, but it can’t be the maneuvering party since it is very heavy. This system should get the best of both worlds.

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Someone was asking on ARocket about where to start with building a differentially throttled hovering vehicle. Lots of advice were given by various people. I’ll show some stuff I quickly sketched back in 2007 with Simulink. It’s such an easy to use and awesome software (especially compared to a recent short battling with LabView), that whipping up any control system or any process or system models are really quick jobs.

This is just some really trivial basics, it doesn’t take into account nearly enough things to produce a real hovering vehicle. I guess it’s just a way to show how things could be started.

So, here’s a pic of a simple one-dimensional rotational feedback system. Just tested some feedback coefficient values for the PD controller.

1) You can see the placeholder “guidance algorithm” output at the top left “scope” graph. This is the reference or target value of the angle where we want the vehicle to be. At the start it’s giving a desired angle of zero radians, then from 4 seconds onwards it suddenly wants 0.5 radians, then again zero after 6 seconds. This could be holding a tilt for a while for getting up some lateral velocity for a transverse move.

2)  Below that, you see Theta, the angle that the vehicle actually had during the simulation. It follows the desired angle quite nicely. Below Theta, there’s omega, the angular velocity.

3) The tilting is done by throttling the two thrusters. At top center and top right you can see the values of the throttles. Since this thing only concerns tilt and not stationary hovering, the throttles are at zero when the vehicle is at the right attitude (reference=Theta) and there’s no angular velocity. When the refence is moved, at 4 seconds, throttle 1 shoots up for a while and the vehicle starts tilting. At around 4.8 seconds the other thruster, throttle 2 shoots up to stop the rotation, since the vehicle is nearing the desired angle.

You can see from the block diagram how the error value, E = theta – reference is calculated. And also omega is used. From these the throttle values are calculated, simply by Throttle1 = E*Kp1 + omega*Kd1 and so on. By fiddling with the Kp and Kd values, called gains, one can tune the system. The values currently are just some I quickly tried back then.  This Simulink model actually has a bug, a sign error. The error signal’s difference calculation is backwards, hence Kp1 and Kd1 are negative. It should be the other way around.

You can tune the model. Basically, raising the proportional values makes the system faster (reach desired values quicker) but gives overshooting and can make the system oscillate unstably. Higher derivative gains remove the tendency to oscillate, but the system becomes more sensitive to noise (noise can after all have large derivatives). If the vehicle had problems of always staying some amount off from the final required attitude value, an error integrator could be added that would fine tune the vehicle a little (making it a PID controller). This is probably not needed here though – the guidance system could notice if the vehicle travels somewhere it doesn’t want it to go.

The MDL file for the above is available here.

This is just a very quick first brush analysis, there are much much more things to take into account. The other tilt axis, roll, the need  to actually stay airborne (altitude or vertical velocity feedback loop) that ties into the throttle values too. One could abstract this tilt in one axis to a single control block, and produce another similar block for altitude holding, then couple these blocks into a whole system of altitude and tilt holding (by mixing the throttle values). This should avoid clutter and enable one to isolate problems.

Also, one should add some noise to the sensed angle vs real angle as gyro noise seems to be a real issue for VTVL vehicles. One wouldn’t want to tune a PD controller’s values in a noiseless simulator and then find out it gets wildly out of control in the real world. Even when not simulating noise, one can be quite conservative with the tuning values, and that helps too. The throttles probably would be another source of errors as well, if one used ball valves like here. One could also use pulse width modulated solenoids (John Carmack is fond of those for quick work) and those should be modeled. Digital valves (for liquids) have also improved lately, and hydraulics uses are emerging.

I’ve only done real world PID stuff on lab experiments. But it’s still very cool to see it work. It can balance a ball on an unsteady position on a moving cart, which humans have trouble with using a joystick, and the math in the controller is not complex since linear approximations can be used for that problem.

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