A value proposition for lunar architectures utilizing on-orbit propellant refueling

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Young, James Jamy
Wilhite, Alan W.
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In 2004, President Bush addressed the nation and presented NASA's new vision for space exploration. This vision included the completion of the International Space Station, the retirement of the Space Shuttle, the development of a new crew exploration vehicle, and the return of humans to the moon by 2020. NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) produced a transportation architecture for returning humans to the moon affordably and safely. This architecture requires the development of two new Shuttle-derived launch vehicles, an in-space transportation vehicle, a lunar descent and landing vehicle, and a crew exploration vehicle for human transportation. The development of an in-space propellant transfer capability could greatly improve the performance, cost, mission success, and mission extensibility of the overall lunar architecture, providing a more optimal solution for future exploration missions. The work done in this thesis will analyze how this new capability could affect the current NASA lunar architecture, and will outline the value proposition of propellant refueling to NASA. A value proposition for propellant refueling will be provided to establish why an architecture that utilizes propellant refueling is better equipped to meet the goals of the Vision for Space Exploration than the current baseline design. The primary goal addressed in this research is the development of a sustainable and affordable exploration program. The value proposition will outline various refueling strategies that can be used to improve each of the architecture Figures of Merit. These include a decrease in the Life Cycle Cost of both the lunar and Mars exploration campaigns, the ability to more than double the mission payload that can be delivered to the lunar surface during cargo missions, improving the probability of successfully completing each lunar mission, decreasing the uncertainty, and therefore risk, experienced during the development process, and improving the extensibility of the exploration architecture by utilizing a greater portion of the lunar program for future crewed mission. The ability to improve these Figures of Merit provides NASA with a more valuable architecture because NASA is able to achieve a greater return on its large initial investment.
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