Andrews Space Works on Aerocapture System for Planetary Probes, ISS Cargo Return

NASA recently announced that it would be conducting contract negotiations for 350 projects under its SBIR and STTR programs, which are aimed at promoting space technology development and transfer by small businesses. Parabolic Arc will be looking at a number of the proposals involving NewSpace companies that it regularly covers or which encompass interesting technologies.

This post takes a look at a hypersonic entry system for spacecraft aerocapture that is being developed by Andrews Space. The system could be used for spacecraft sent to other worlds as well as cargo return by space freighters such as Cygnus, ATV and HTV.

COMPANY:Andrews Space, Inc.
PROPOSAL TITLE:Petal Brake Hypersonic Entry System
SUBTOPIC TITLE:Advanced Integrated Hypersonic Entry Systems


Future NASA exploration plans will realize significant performance advantages with aerocapture and aerobraking of large, heavy payloads for Mars, Titan, and the gas giant planets. During a previous NASA LaRC funded High Mass Mars Entry System study, Andrews Space found that while inflatable aerobrake designs potentially offer the lowest-mass solution, they are challenged from the uncertainties of dynamic response of large soft structures at the sizes required, and from the risks associated with cleanly separating the lander/payload from the decelerator. A “Petal Brake” concept was introduced as an integrated hypersonic entry system design that addresses these issues. The design performs hypersonic aerocapture and entry maneuvers as a biconic aeroshell, then deploys to provide higher drag just prior to terminal descent and landing. It covers a wide range of EDL environments, is structurally determinate, with minimal aero-elastic issues, and with positive separation characteristics during jettison. During Phase I of this project, Andrews proposes to further advance the operational Petal Brake concept by designing and evaluating a point-of-departure petal-brake design for Mars entry, defining a potential test program, then generating a detailed subscale petal-brake design suitable for manufacture, wind tunnel testing, and high altitude deployment testing in Phase II.


The petal brake decelerator has primary application to the aerocapture and aerobraking of large payloads into Mars or other planetary atmospheres. This has direct benefit to future planetary exploration missions. A smaller deployable petal brake could be used for recovery of payloads from Earth orbit as well. A petal brake could be used for controlled de-orbit and disposal, recovery of materials testing cargo, to recover biological and high value cargo from low earth orbit free flyers or from the International Space Station. Larger deployable petal brake configurations could also be used to retrofit existing cargo vehicles, such as the Orbital Cygnus, ATV or HTV and enable a recovery capability.


The petal brake decelerator has commercial applicability to the recovery of large and small payloads from suborbital conditions or from Earth orbit to support low cost launch or cargo recovery. One application of this innovation may include recovery of launch stage hardware for reuse. SpaceX is planning on recovering their Falcon 1E and Falcon 9 second stage, and the deployable petal brake could be an enabler given their physical size and configuration. Booster recovery could also be enhanced by deployable interstage drag devices. A small deployable petal brake could be used to recover biological samples, high value cargo, instrumentation, or defense-related payloads from low earth orbit free flyers.


Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Astronautics)
Entry, Descent, & Landing (see also Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3