Novel orbits of Mercury and Venus enabled using low-thrust propulsion

Anderson, Pamela and Macdonald, Malcolm and Yen, Chen-wan L. (2013) Novel orbits of Mercury and Venus enabled using low-thrust propulsion. In: 23rd AAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Conference, 2013-02-10 - 2013-02-14.

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Exploration of the inner planets of the Solar System is vital to significantly enhance the understanding of the formulation of Earth and other planets. This paper therefore considers the development of novel orbits of both Mercury and Venus to enhance the opportunities for remote sensing. Continuous low-thrust propulsion is used to extend the critical inclination of highly elliptical orbits at each planet, which are shown to require very small acceleration magnitudes. Unlike other bodies in the Solar System, natural sun-synchronous orbits do not exist at Mercury or Venus. This research therefore also uses continuous acceleration to enable both circular and elliptical sun-synchronous orbits, which could significantly simplify the spacecraft thermal environment. Considerably high thrust levels are however required to enable these orbits, which could not be provided by current propulsion systems.