A Survey of Propulsion Options for Cargo and Piloted Missions to Mars


K. Sankaran, L. Cassady, A.D. Kodys and E.Y. Choueiri (EPPDyL, Princeton University)

Document type:

(Preprint) The Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Vol. 1017, pp. 450-467, May 2004.

Originally presented at the 1st International Conference on New Trends in Astrodynamics in College Park, MD, Jan. 20-22, 2003


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In this paper, high-power electric propulsion options are surveyed in the context of cargo and piloted missions to Mars. A low-thrust trajectory optimization program (RAPTOR) is utilized to analyze this mission. Candidate thrusters are chosen based upon demonstrated performance in the laboratory. Hall, self-field magnetoplasmadynamic (MPDT), self-field lithium Lorentz force accelerator (LiLFA), arcjet, and applied-field LiLFA systems are considered for this mission. In this first phase of the study, all thrusters are assumed to operate at a single power level (regardless of the efficiency-power curve), and the thruster specific mass and powerplant specific mass are taken to be the same for all systems. Under these assumptions, for a 7.5 MW, 60 mT payload, piloted mission, the self-field LiLFA results in the shortest trip time (340 days) with a reasonable propellant mass fraction of 57% (129 mT). For a 150 kW, 9 mT payload, cargo mission, both the applied-field LiLFA and the Hall thruster seem reasonable choices with propellant mass fractions of 42 to 45% (7 to 8 mT). The Hall thrusters provide better trip times(530-570 days) compared to the applied-field LiLFA (710 days) for the relatively less demanding mission.
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