Propulsion Systems Integration


Success in propulsion research is ultimately characterized by infusion of a scientific principle or a matured technology into a system. Efforts are underway at the PRC and Complex System Integration Lab (CSIL), above, to apply Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) to advanced propulsion systems integration as a method to address advanced propulsion technology infusion challenges. The focus of this research is to apply MBSE to develop systems engineering models for the engine components, the engine, and vehicle, providing specifications and sensitivities of alternatives to enable determination of an optimal vehicle configuration for a given mission.

A Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) space transportation vehicle for human exploration beyond cislunar space is the subject of one study. Although the fundamentals of NTP are well understood and ground test data exists from the NERVA program in the 1960s, it has never been used in a spaceflight vehicle, nor have any vehicle designs gone beyond the conceptual stage. The Systems Modeling Language (SysML) is employed for this modeling effort to develop an integrated systems model that captures both the structure and behavior of a NTP spaceflight vehicle. In addition to providing an integrated system model of a point design, mathematical models enable derivation of scaling relationships between the NTP system, the flight vehicle, and the orbital mechanics driven by the destination and mission duration. The model, depicted below, allows elements to be added or replaced as necessary to change the model for increased fidelity calculations or to add new capabilities, such as electricity generation from the nuclear reactor or liquid oxygen augmented thrust. This allows the integrated systems model to start very simple and grow to the requisite complexity. The NTP project serves as a pathfinder for propulsion systems integration utilizing advanced propulsion technologies. The advanced propulsion systems integration tools and techniques developed and analyses performed in this research will allow propulsion systems to be realized which incorporate new scientific principles and technologies, and realized more quickly, economically, and reliably at lower risk.

Recent Highlights:

  • Systems Modeling for Nuclear Thermal Propulsion Powered Space Transportation Vehicle, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
Dr. L. Dale Thomas's faculty page
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Dr. L. Dale Thomas

Eminent Scholar in Systems Engineering & PRC Deputy Center Director

For more information on propulsion systems integration at the Propulsion Research Center, please contact Dr. Thomas.