Summary: The aim of the collaborative academic-industrial project was to develop a system model to optimise the full descent mission problem (i.e., de-orbiting, atmospheric re-entry, and glided final approach) of a single stage to orbit (SSTO) spaceplane, using Reaction Engines’ Skylon vehicle as a test case. This built on research currently underway within the Centre for Future Air-Space Transportation Technology (FASTT) and ICE-Lab at the University of Strathclyde developing an integrated design platform for quickly assessing design parameters based on the simulated performance and operations for future space access vehicles. This integrated design approach for spaceplanes, looking at the system design as a whole accounting for uncertainties and design robustness, did not exist within the UK, and was directly in-line with the IGS goal of reusable launch vehicles, the UKSA goal of a national spaceport, and industry demands in the UK.
An initial project has been carried out at ICE Lab to extend the existing generic re-entry design models developed at FASTT, which considers the trajectory from atmospheric entry to the end of the hypersonic phase, to include de-orbiting and glided final approach. Skylon has been modelled and used as a test case to analyse optimised descent trajectories for their standard mission profiles. The final code optimised the entire descent phase, from de-orbiting manoeuvre to landing final approach. The tool also accounted for model and operational uncertainties and evaluated the robustness of the vehicle performance against them. Although there are several tools already available for numerically solving optimal control problems, they are very general and do not help the user to simulate a real descent problem
External links: National Space Technology Programme 3: round 1 call link
Timeframe: March 2015 – October 2015
People: Annalisa Riccardi, Edmondo Minisci, Christie A. Maddock
Sponsors: Reaction Engines, UK space agency