The 2015 Aerospace Engineering Senior Design project at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign consisted of a team of 7 engineers working on designing a reusable Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) capable of transporting unmanned and manned payloads between Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Earth–Moon Lagrangian Points L1 or L2. After delivering the payload the OTV must be capable of remaining at EML1 or EML2 for at least 30 days and then return the payload back to LEO. The OTV servicing will take place in LEO and propellant loading will be accomplished using Propellant Depot. The design team only needs to identify the type and the amount of propellant required by the OTV. The OTV and the Propellant Depot will be stationed in 400 km AMSL circular LEO with 28° inclination. The OTV payload capability shall be 50,000 lbs from LEO to EML1 and 15,000 lbs from EML1 to LEO. Each transfer should not exceed 6 days. The life of the OTV shall be 5 years and the OTV shall be capable of at least 10 missions to EML1 or EML2.
[1.1] Centurion Docking Features
The Centurion was our answer to the prompt of designing an Orbit Transfer Vehicle with those capabilities. Centurion is a modular design vehicle equipped with the latest technologies, including a nuclear thermal propulsion system. The structure weighs approximately 89,000 kg of which about 39,000 kg is the fuel onboard the vehicle. It is capable of docking with a variety of payloads and capsules and has the ability to transport that cargo to Lagrange points L1 or L2. The total cost to design, fabricate, and launch Centurion would be about $2.5 billion, with subsequent missions costing about $95 million each.
Centurion redefines modularity and simplicity. The vehicle is composed of different modules designed specifically for this mission, the optimal attitude determination and control systems for the vehicle, power and thermal systems that reduce the weight of Centurion while not compromising safety, an orbital plan that can almost cut travel time in half, a revolutionary new propulsion system never before used in action, and a launching and docking mechanism that allows the vehicle to dock with ease.
[1.2] Centurion Design Specifications
The nuclear thermal propulsion system is one of the key, distinguishable aspects of Centurion. The technology was initially proposed in 1955 by the Hungarian engineer, Theodore von Karman. This new system was then tested in 1960 through the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application or NERVA program. These tests validated the applicability of a nuclear thermal engine on rockets. The benefits for such an engine range from fuel savings to reduced costs, and cut the cost of our missions by a factor of 3. The reactor core is composed of highly enriched uranium–carbide fuel in a graphite matrix. Liquid hydrogen is injected into the core where it is heated to above 2200°C and ejected out of the nozzle. Radiation concerns can be addressed through the application of radiation shields around the reactor and can further be reduced through a combination of a tungsten and lithium hydrogen shield. The highly advanced nuclear thermal propulsion system is the solution that Hyperion Ventures’ proposes to address the high costs and fuel associated with a mission to EML1 or EML2.
[1.3] Centurion by Hyperion Venture
You can check out our entire final design document below: