Optimal trajectory designs and systems engineering analyses of reusable launch vehicles
Realizing a reusable launch vehicle (RLU) that is low cost with highly effective launch capability has become the "Holy Grail" within the aerospace community world-wide. Clear understanding of the vehicle's operational limitations and flight characteristics in all phases of the flight are preponderant components in developing such a launch system. This dissertation focuses on characterizing and designing the RLU optimal trajectories in order to aid in strategic decision making during mission planning in four areas: (1) nominal ascent phase, (2) abort scenarios and trajectories during ascent phase including abort-to-orbit (ATO), transoceanic-abort-landing (TAL) and return-to-launch-site (RTLS), (3) entry phase (including footprint), and (4) systems engineering aspects of such flight trajectory design. The vehicle chosen for this study is the Lockheed Martin X-33 lifting-body design that lifts off vertically with two linear aerospike rocket engines and lands horizontally. An in-depth investigation of the optimal endo-atmospheric ascent guidance parameters such as earliest abort time, engine throttle setting, number of flight phases, flight characteristics and structural design limitations will be performed and analyzed to establish a set of benchmarks for making better trade-off decisions. Parametric analysis of the entry guidance will also be investigated to allow the trajectory designer to pinpoint relevant parameters and to generate optimal constrained trajectories. Optimal ascent and entry trajectories will be generated using a direct transcription method to cast the optimal control problem as a nonlinear programming problem. The solution to the sparse nonlinear programming problem is then solved using sequential quadratic programming. Finally, guidance system hierarchy studies such as work breakdown structure, functional analysis, fault-tree analysis, and configuration management will be developed to ensure that the guidance system meets the definition of vehicle design requirements and constraints.