Documentation of the 2016 NASA JSC - RISD study of the Mars Ascent Vehicle
We began the design process through defining the various constraints that will guide our decision-making process. Safety and redundancy were top on the list, and cost (which affected volume and mass) followed closely. In addition to the crew and time considerations, other factors included accommodating equipment and sample storage, human needs and emergency scenarios.
Through a series of sketches and scale models, we developed concepts which were presented to the JSC MAV development team to critique. The cylindrical ‘pill’ form was selected as the candidate due to it being close to an ideal pressure vessel; requiring less structural support and thus reduced mass and cost. It also was supported by strong internal layout configurations from the human-factors perspective.
The initial concept was validated through a full-scale, low-fidelity cardboard mock-up. This gave us the opportunity to objectively evaluate the appropriateness of the volume by putting a range of human bodies within the space. It also allowed us to make judgments on critical decisions such as launch seating arrangements, ingress/egress positions, and sleeping locations. After synthesizing the feedback and findings, we created a refined concept that responded to the insights and integrated with the pre-defined design requirements.
The final, high-fidelity prototype was first modeled in Solidworks as a series of structural ribs. These were then laser-cut into pieces that could be assembled. The inside of the mock-up was created using a mixture of plywood, Sintra - a type of expanded PVC foam sheet, acrylic, and foamcore. We had set requirements where key interactions such as ingress-egress, stowage and launch seating had to be fully-interactable, which meant designing the structures to be fully capable of supporting the weight of our 95th percentile male astronaut. Additionally, lighting and command/control systems were simulated with functioning LED lights and independently stowable touch panels.