PhD Defense by Christopher Curtice Kitson

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Christopher Curtice Kitson
(Advisor: Prof. Mavris)

will defend a master’s thesis entitled,

A System Of Systems Methodology for Conceptual Studies of
In-Situ Resource Utilization for Near Earth Object Applications


Thursday, July 2nd at 10:00 AM EDT
[Meeting Number: 160 041 0638]
Password: Ak5ePUipE43

Near Earth Objects (NEO) have historically been neglected as an object of study relative to other celestial bodies. Interest has been increasing as more recognize the potential value of NEO resources represented by ‘asteroid mining’, especially as a supporting role in a Systems of Systems (SoS) context. After all, reusable rockets require refueling before reuse. That propellant needs to come from somewhere.

Still, a feasible means to harness NEO resources has proven elusive. In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) is a broad field with literature siloed by both disciplines & use cases. This is especially apparent for existing NEO ISRU concepts, with wildly varying levels of detail between systems in the same concept, including omission of key functions. Pet projects given context imply ‘technology push’ instead of ‘mission pull’.

This thesis aims to show NEO ISRU is more feasible than previously believed, by providing a more comprehensive treatment of the required functionality and the means to deliver it. This boils down to permitting better comparisons via enabling trade studies at the conceptual level (NASA pre-phase A). A sample return mission using propellant produced from NEO resources for the return trip is used to contextualize the analysis. Both qualitative & quantitative aspects are considered herein.

Qualitative aspects are considered first. By reconciling commonalities between concepts, standardized terminology is proposed through a functional decomposition along with a morphological matrix of alternatives. A streamlined technology readiness assessment is performed to rank these morphological options. This information is used to select four concepts, one for each propellant type considered. Both impulsive (methalox & hydrolox) and continuous (hydrogen & steam) propulsion are considered as possible customers of an In-Situ Propellant Production (ISPP) SoS.

Another significant part of this effort is quantifying alternatives sufficiently to permit comparisons beyond subject matter expert opinions. A modular sizing code is developed from scratch in line with the functional decomposition, verified at the module level using analog test data. By establishing baseline design(s), perturbations can be compared with directionally correct results. Input parameters for NEO orbital characteristics and then NEO composition are varied to ascertain effects upon sizing results. These results inform a trade study between the four propellant types considered.



  • Prof. Dimitri Mavris – School of Aerospace Engineering (advisor)
  • Dr. Alicia Sudol – School of Aerospace Engineering
  • Dr. Selcuk Cimtalay – School of Aerospace Engineering


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