Date of Award

Summer 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Robert L. Ash

Committee Member

Oktay Baysal

Committee Member

Jamshid A. Samareh

Committee Member

Shizhi Qian


Because of the severe quarantine constraints that must be imposed on any returned extraterrestrial samples, the Mars sample return Earth-entry vehicle must remain intact through sample recovery. Vehicles returning on a Mars-Earth trajectory will attain velocities exceeding any that have been experienced by prior space exploration missions, with velocities approaching 14 km/s. Velocities as high as these will encounter significant heating during atmospheric re-entry to Earth.

The purpose of this study has been to systematically investigate the aerothermodynamic challenges that will result from a Mars sample return, Earth-entry vehicle design. The goal was to enable efficient estimation of maximum stagnation point convective and radiative heating that will be encountered during Earth-entry over a wide range of spherically blunted cone angles, entry velocities, flight path angles, and ballistic coefficients.

Assembling a robust and validated aerothermodynamic database for a potential Mars sample return Earth-entry vehicle has been accomplished by estimating peak heating over a wide range of possible designs. This goal was achieved by utilizing fundamental knowledge, along with the use of engineering analysis tools, such as POST2 (Program to Optimize Simulated Trajectories II) and LAURA (Langley Aerothermodynamic Upwind Relaxation Algorithm) computational fluid dynamics analysis.

The aerothermodynamic analysis conducted in this thesis provides a catalog of heating trends to be used for optimal selection of mission design constraints such as vehicle geometry, thermal protection system, and entry trajectory, with the primary goal of returning a Mars soil and atmospheric sample for thorough analysis on Earth; this acts as a step towards safely landing humans on the Martian surface.


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