Robotic On-Orbit Fueling of SEI Vehicles

by Margaret M. Clarke, Rockwell Int Corp, Downey, United States,
David E. Haines, Rockwell Int Corp, Downey, United States,
A. J. Mauceri, Rockwell Int Corp, Downey, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space III


Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) missions may involve the assembly and then fueling of vehicles in locations other than on the surface of the Earth. For example, fueling of the Mars Transfer System (MTS) would require transfer of cryogenics from a low earth orbit (LEO). To accomplish this type of fueling, safe, reliable, and cost-effective methods would be developed for the large-scale handling of hydrogen and perhaps other fuels. The paper describes work that was performed at Rockwell International Space System Division to investigate the feasibility of, and develop concepts for, the robotic supply of consumables on-orbit and focuses specifically on SEI assets. The paper has five sections. First, general issues are discussed. Second, major methods of effecting propellant transfer on orbit are summarized; the pros and cons of applying robotics to each method are discussed. Methods include direct transfer of fuel and oxidizer, assembly of tanks to the vehicle, and assembly of propulsion modules to the vehicle. Third, guidelines are developed for automated/robotic cryogenic propellant transfer mechanisms to accomplish on-orbit consumable supply of SEI vehicles like the MTS, by direct fluid transfer. For example, the guidelines cover vehicle design, combined docking/propellant transfer mechanism, and fuel transfer system. The fourth part of the paper covers the development of initial design concepts for the LEO fueling of the MTS. Concepts include a LEO supply infrastructure (launch system and LEO storage platform) and a cryogenic chemically propelled manned MTS, which are designed for automated interoperability. Last, the necessary future technical development in these areas is summarized, and includes technologies for MTS tank-to-vehicle and propulsion module-to-vehicle assembly.

Subject Headings: Fuels | Automation and robotics | Vehicles | Orbits | Aircraft and spacecraft | Space exploration | Mars

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