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Solar sailing: mission applications and engineering challenges

McInnes, Colin (2003) Solar sailing: mission applications and engineering challenges. Philosophical Transactions A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 361 (1813). pp. 2989-3008. ISSN 1364-503X

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Abstract

Solar sailing is emerging as a promising form of advanced spacecraft propulsion, which can enable exciting new space-science mission concepts. By exploiting the momentum transported by solar photons, solar sails can perform high-energy orbittransfer manoeuvres without the need for reaction mass. Missions such as planetary sample return, multiple small-body rendezvous and fast missions to the outer Solar System can therefore be enabled with the use of only a modest launch vehicle. In addition, new families of highly non-Keplerian orbits have been identifed that are unique to solar sails, and can enable new ways of performing space-science missions. While the opportunities presented by solar sailing are appealing, engineering challenges are still to be solved before the technology comes to fruition.