Needs assessment of gossamer structures in communications platform end-of-life disposal

Macdonald, Malcolm and McInnes, Colin and Bewick, Charlotte (2013) Needs assessment of gossamer structures in communications platform end-of-life disposal. In: AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Conference 2013, 2013-08-19 - 2013-08-22.

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The use of a gossamer structure is considered in application to end-of-life disposal of communications platforms. A wide-ranging survey of end-of-life disposal techniques and strategies is presented for comparison against a gossamer structure prior to a down-selection of viable competing techniques; solar sailing, high and low-thrust propulsion, and electrodynamic tethers. A parametric comparison of the down-selection competing techniques is presented where it was found that exploiting solar radiation pressure on the gossamer structure was of limited value. In general terms, it was found that if a spacecraft propulsion system remains functioning at the end-of-life then this will likely provide the most efficient means of re-orbiting, especially when the propulsion system is only used to lower the orbit to a point where atmospheric drag will cause the orbit to decay within the required timeframe. Atmospheric drag augmentation was found to be of most benefit for end-of-life disposal when an entirely passive means is required, allowing the device to act as a ‘fail-safe’, which if the spacecraft suffers a catastrophic failure would activate. The use of an atmospheric drag augmentation system is applicable to only low and medium mass spacecraft, or spacecraft that are unlikely to survive atmospheric re-entry, hence minimizing risk to human life.