Small-body encounters using solar sail propulsion

Hughes, Gareth W. and McInnes, Colin R. (2004) Small-body encounters using solar sail propulsion. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, 41 (1). pp. 140-150. ISSN 0022-4650 (

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Cometary Rendezvous and Flybys have large V requirements, which impose almost unattainable, and sometimes prohibitive, demands on the propellant budget of conventional, chemical propulsion. Ion Propulsion is a viable alternative, but as the number and difficulty of target objectives increases then the potential of this technology becomes rapidly less attractive. Solar sails exhibit an extremely high effective specific impulse over long mission durations. No propellant is required so that large changes in V could be realised without necessitating the introduction of complex gravity assists, which prolong mission duration and restrict launch opportunities. The endurance of the structures and materials are thus the only limiting factors dictating the number and range of bodies with which the solar-sail propelled vehicle can encounter throughout its lifetime. In this paper we have analysed a number of high-energy, small-body mission scenarios using a parameterised approach to sail control representation. The sail cone and clock angle histories were characterised by linear interpolation across a set of discrete nodes. The optimal control problem was thus transcribed to a Non-Linear Programming problem to select the optimal controls at the nodes that minimised the transfer time while enforcing the cartesian end-point boundary constraints (6 states for rendezvous, 3 for flypast). The Fortran77 optimisation package NPSOL 5.0 was used for this purpose with the variational equations of motion formulated in modified equinoctial orbital elements and integrated using a variable-order, adaptive step-size Adams-Moulton-Bashforth method. We present optimal rendezvous trajectories to Short-Period Comets such as 46P/Wirtanen in 484 days with a sail characteristic acceleration of 1.9 mms-2, and with 2P/Encke in 574 days with a characteristic acceleration of 1.0 mms-2. An analysis using high-performance sails has been conducted to permit fast flyby intercepts of newly discovered Long Period Comets (LPCs). Previous examples adopted were C/1995 O1/Hale- Bopp, C/1995 Y1/Hyakutake, C/1999 T1/McNaught-Hartley, C/1999 F1/Catalina, C/1999 N2/Lynn and C/1999 H1/Lee, to demonstrate the feasibility of a late launch to quickly intercept a new LPC using a solar sail. Since the time between discovery of a new LPC such as Hale-Bopp and perihelion passage was less then 2 years, this then leaves a very short time-span for orbit determination, preparation, planning and operational phases. Preliminary mission analysis shows that a Hale-Bopp perihelion flypast could have been achieved, with a sail characteristic acceleration of 5.0 mms-2, by launching just 209 days before comet perihelion passage. With a characteristic acceleration of 2.0 mms-2 Hale-Bopp could also have been intercepted at its descending node by launching 270 days before nodal descent. The sail could then have returned to rendezvous with the Earth 261 days later, giving a minimum total mission turn-around time of 531 days. An alternative, dual flyby scenario has been investigated, to continue on to C/1997 D1/Mueller, after which solar system escape was reached and arrival at Heliopause would occur in 12 years. Solar Electric Propulsion has been adopted as the primary propulsion system for the DAWN dual asteroid rendezvous mission scheduled for launch in 2006. The objective of this mission is to rendezvous with inner main-belt asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. We have also investigated solar sail adaptation to this mission, for the same launch date and 11 month orbiter stay-times. We have extended the mission objectives to two further asteroids, Lucina and Lutetia, with the aim of demonstrating a Mainbelt Asteroid Survey scenario.