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Micro-to-Macro : astrodynamics at extremes of length-scale

McInnes, Colin and Ceriotti, Matteo and Colombo, Camilla and Sanchez Cuartielles, Joan-Pau and Bewick, Russell and Heiligers, Jeannette and Lucking, Charlotte (2011) Micro-to-Macro : astrodynamics at extremes of length-scale. Acta Futura, 4. pp. 81-97.

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Abstract

This paper investigates astrodynamics at extremes of length-scale, ranging from swarms of future ‘smart dust’ devices to the capture and utilisation of small near Earth asteroids. At the smallest length-scales families of orbits are found which balance the energy gain from solar radiation pressure with energy dissipation due to air drag. This results in long orbit lifetimes for high area-to-mass ratio ‘smart dust’ devices. High area-to-mass hybrid spacecraft, using both solar sail and electric propulsion, are then considered to enable ‘pole-sitter’ orbits providing a polar-stationary vantage point for Earth observation. These spacecraft are also considered to enable displaced geostationary orbits. Finally, the potential material resource available from captured near Earth asteroids is considered which can underpin future large-scale space engineering ventures. The use of such material for geoengineering is investigated using a cloud of unprocessed dust in the vicinity of the Earth-Sun L1 point to fractionally reduce solar insolation.