A methodology for risk-informed launch vehicle architecture selection

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Edwards, Stephen James
Mavris, Dimitri N.
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Modern society in the 21st century has become inseparably dependent on human mastery of the near-Earth regions of space. Billions of dollars in on-orbit assets provide a set of fundamental, requisite services to such diverse domains as telecom, military, banking, and transportation. While orbiting satellites provide these services, launch vehicles (LVs) are unquestionably the most critical piece of infrastructure in the space economy value chain. The past decade has seen a significant level of activity in LV development, including some fundamental changes to the industry landscape. Every space-faring nation is engaged in new program developments; most notable, however, is the surge in commercial investments and development efforts, which has been spurred by a combination of private investments by wealthy individuals, new government policies and acquisition strategies, and the increased competition that has resulted from both. In all the LV programs of today, affordability is acknowledged as the single biggest objective. Governments seek assured access to space that can be realized within constrained budgets, and commercial entities vie for survival, profitability, and market-share. From literature, it is clear that the biggest opportunity for affecting affordability resides in improving decision-making early on in the design process. However, a review of historical LV architecture studies shows that very little has changed over the past 50 years in how early architecting decisions are analyzed. In particular, architecture analyses of alternatives are still conducted deterministically, despite uncertainty being at its highest in the very early stages of design. This thesis argues that the ``design freedom'' that exists early on manifests itself as volitional uncertainty during the LV architect's deliberation, motivating the objective statement ``to develop a methodology for enabling risk-informed decision making during the architecture selection phase of LV programs.'' NASA's Risk-Informed Decision Making process is analyzed with respect to the particulars of the LV architecture selection problem. The most significant challenge is found to be LV performance modeling via trajectory optimization, which is not well suited to probabilistic analysis. To overcome this challenge, an empirical modeling approach is proposed. However, this in turn introduces the challenge of generalizing the empirical model, as creating distinct performance models for every architecture concept under consideration is considered infeasible. A review of the main drivers in LV trajectory performance observes T/W not only to be one of the parameters with most sensitivity, but also reveals it to be a functional in its true form. Based on the performance-driving nature of the T/W profile, and the fact that in its infinite-dimensional form it offers a common basis for representing diverse architectures, functional regression techniques are proposed as a potential means of constructing an architecture-spanning empirical performance model. A number of techniques are formulated and tested, and prove capable of supporting the LV performance modeling in support of risk-informed architecture selection.
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