LEO Launch Capabilities

Analysis of Launch Capabilities for Low Earth Orbit

Project Summary

We conducted an analysis of the current Low Earth Orbit Launch (LEO) Capabilities of Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of seven or above according to the NASA TRL scale. SPEC Innovations set constraints and goals to provide bounds for the proposed model. The primary goals consisted of transporting 1000 metric tons of material to LEO in a timeframe of 30 months with a maximum total cost of $32 Billion.

The team constructed an optimization model taking into account the following variables: cost per launch, turnaround time, mass transporter, capability provider, and TRL for each launch capability. Both man-­‐rated and pure cargo launches were considered with the ability to mix cargo and man-­‐rated launches. The optimization model was executed to determine which mix of launch capabilities would be optimal for transporting the mass and personnel to LEO.

Once these original optimal launch methods were determined the team conducted an extensive sensitivity analysis on the parameters of individual launch capabilities and groups of capabilities. This sensitivity analysis was performed in part to determine how sensitive the optimal solution was to changing variables, however another important goal was to account for risk involved with immature technologies. The risks of cost estimation for immature technologies were mitigated by providing optimal ranges for the costs for these technologies to account for variation. Another risk addressed was the possible consequences of political dispute resulting in certain countries’ technologies becoming unavailable. The result of removing these technologies from the list of possibilities was considered and studied through model variation.

Through many iterations of the model it becomes apparent that limiting choices has the repercussion of raising the total costs required in order to achieve objectives. In general it is more expensive across the board when eliminating choices, as there are not as many combinations present to mix and match. It was also determined that if either the Falcon Heavy or the Proton Launch Vehicle were to become unavailable, total project cost would increase $200-­‐$300 Million. It was also determined that without the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the total number of launches needed to complete the mission would increase by around 1/3. This leads to the conclusion that the Falcon Heavy and the Proton Launch Vehicle are the most promising technologies for use by SPEC Innovations.