Date of Award

Fall 2015

Access Restriction

Campus Access only research projects

Degree Name

Master of Science


Systems Engineering

School or College

Seaver College of Science and Engineering

First Advisor

Bohdan W. Oppenheim


Interplanetary space missions are expensive, and NASA's budget has not been keeping pace with inflation. As a result, only a few of the 26 missions proposed in Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013 - 2022, the Decadal Survey released by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2011 to outline planetary science objectives in the United States, are being planned. In response, NASA is planning several interplanetary missions using small spacecraft designed to the CubeSat specification to launch in the next few years. This project uses a systems engineering process to propose a conceptual interplanetary CubeSat mission to gather science data at Mercury's poles to help answer some of the questions posed in the Decadal Survey.

The systems engineering process leads us to determine mission objectives, stakeholders, and the mission timeline first. This project considers ethical questions as mission objectives are defined. Top-level requirements, alternative mission architectures, and possible concept of operations are identified. Likely system drivers and key requirements are identified for the spacecraft and subsystems. Trade studies address the biggest challenges for a Mercury CubeSat mission - propulsion to get to Mercury, power generation, and the ability to communicate with Earth from such a distance - concluding that using electrospray thrusters for propulsion, a deployable solar panel array, and a deployable high gain antenna combined with JPL's IRIS X-band radio are the best options.

Borrowing heavily from the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and from planned CubeSat missions to the Moon, systems architecture diagrams are presented followed by proposed subsystem block diagrams.

KarenGrothe_Systems_Presentation_2015.pdf (22055 kB)
Oral Presentation