Optimised low-thrust mission to the Atira asteroids

Di Carlo, Marilena and Romero Martin, Juan Manuel and Ortiz Gomez, Natalia and Vasile, Massimiliano (2017) Optimised low-thrust mission to the Atira asteroids. Advances in Space Research, 59 (7). pp. 1724-1739. ISSN 0273-1177

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    Abstract

    Atira asteroids are recently-discovered celestial bodies characterised by orbits lying completely inside the heliocentric orbit of the Earth. The study of these objects is difficult due to the limitations of ground-based observations: objects can only be detected when the Sun is not in the field of view of the telescope. However, many asteroids are expected to exist in the inner region of the Solar System, many of which could pose a significant threat to our planet. In this paper, a small, low-cost, mission to visit the known Atira asteroids and to discover new Near Earth Asteroids (NEA) is proposed. The mission is realised using electric propulsion. The trajectory is optimised to maximise the number of visited asteroids of the Atira group using the minimum propellant consumption. During the tour of the Atira asteroids an opportunistic NEA discovery campaign is proposed to increase our knowledge of the asteroid population. The mission ends with a transfer to an orbit with perihelion equal to Venus's orbit radius. This orbit represents a vantage point to monitor and detect asteroids in the inner part of the Solar System and provide early warning in the case of a potential impact.