Mahdi Aarabi, Systems Engineer at porkchop
When Matija and Victor first told me they want to build an OTV, my initial thought was that they want to make some simple vehicle which carries satellites from one orbit to another. Where they really got me interested is when they lifted the curtain on their vision of making it reusable and highly-sustainable — it sounded like a distant dream.
I felt both fascinated and worried. Fascinated by the hope that this could become reality — and worried if we’ll even be able to make it happen.
After a few months at porkchop, I have now come to the understanding that this isn’t an ordinary startup or an average company. It is a factory where dreams come in on one side, and space engineering comes out the other.
In the middle of these hopes and fears, I began moving from conceptualized vision to practical tasks, where my system engineering skills would be valuable, knowing that it would require me to think and do beyond my existing knowledge of system engineering.
As a systems engineer, I want to share with you a common day-dream of mine, and a vision for porkchop which I hope becomes true. I dream that after the launch of our next mission in 2023, 2029 will be the best year for targeting an asteroid mining mission.
Why is 2029? A few years ago, rumour spread that an asteroid called Apophis was to collide with the Earth, turning us all into smithereens.
Apophis also happens to be the name of the persistent villain from Stargate SG-1. He is one of the principal threats to the existence of civilisation on Earth through the first few seasons, which is likely why the asteroid was named after him.
Fortunately for us, after scientists performed more precise simulations, it was found that Apophis wouldn’t collide with Earth — however — it would fly very close to the GEO belt (~31 600 km) on 13 April, 2029.
Some may see this as a threat, but I see it as the perfect opportunity because one of the biggest asteroids in the solar system will be paying us a visit in under 8 years!
Like many other engineers, my daydreams include graphs, and I wanted to share one of them. Using NASA JPL’s Small-Body Mission Design Tool, we can start with the default porkchop plots showing both C3 and Delta-V between 2028 until 2030 for Apophis (if you haven’t read our blog post about porkchop plots, I strongly recommend you do!).
What I want to draw your attention to is the Point of Interest (POI) marked on the bottom. On that POI, the time of flight is minimal, and it makes its closest approach on exactly 13 April 2029 (adding the 85 days of flight time to the departure date).
That means that with only 6.1 km/s delta-V and 85 days of travel time, porkchop could reach Apophis. According to the same database, if we launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher, our asteroid lander could weigh up to ~3300 kg, which is more than enough to also bring back some materials, too!
I love the idea of landing on and harnessing an asteroid which was once considered a symbol of destruction and turn it into something which benefits humanity. I also love how the ambitious culture here lets me daydream about us landing on an asteroid in under 8 years.
Through understanding and implementing different approaches, the goal is to move away from the legacy approach, and welcome an innovation where reusability and implementing autonomous rendezvous and docking using miniaturised technologies continues to be at the base of all satellite-to-satellite interactions. I continue to challenge myself and the team in daring to dream about developing technologies which realise our vision.