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A novel interplanetary communications relay

Mckay, Robert and Macdonald, M. and Vasile, M. and Bosquillon de Frescheville, Francois (2010) A novel interplanetary communications relay. In: AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference 2010, 2010-08-02 - 2010-08-05. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

A case study of a potential Earth-Mars interplanetary communications relay, designed to ensure continuous communications, is detailed. The relay makes use of orbits based on artificial equilibrium points via the application of continuous low thrust, which allows a spacecraft to hover above the orbital plane of Mars and thus ensure communications when the planet is occulted with respect to the Earth. The artificial equilibria of two different low-thrust propulsion technologies are considered: solar electric propulsion, and a solar sail/solar electric propulsion hybrid. In the latter case it is shown that the combination of sail and solar electric propulsion may prove advantageous, but only under specific circumstances of the relay architecture suggested. The study takes into account factors such as the spacecraft's power requirements and communications band utilized to determine the mission and system architecture. A detailed contingency analysis is considered for recovering the relay after increasing periods of spacecraft motor failure, and combined with a consideration for how best to deploy the relay spacecraft to maximise propellant reserves and mission duration.