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A solar kite mission to study the Earth's magneto-tail

Lappas, Vaios and Wie, Bong and McInnes, C.R. and Tarabini, L. and Gomes, L. and Wallace, K. (2005) A solar kite mission to study the Earth's magneto-tail. JBIS, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, 58 (1-2). pp. 23-31. ISSN 0007-084X

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Abstract

Solar Sails have been studied in the past as an alternative means of propulsion for spacecraft. Recent advances in Solar Sail technology and the miniaturisation of technology can drive these systems much smaller (< 5 kg mass, < 10m sail diameter) than existing sails, while still having a high delta-V and acceleration capability. With these unique capabilities of miniature Solar Sails, called Solar Kites, some very unique space science missions can be achieved which are difficult to be implemented using conventional propulsion techniques. One such unique candidate mission is to study the Earth's magnetotail. The paper lays out the main design features and technologies of a Solar Kite mission/platform and demonstrates that a cluster of Solar Kites with science payloads can provide multiple, in-situ measurements of the dynamic evolution of energetic particle distributions of the rotating geomagnetic tail of Earth. With a unique design, a Solar Kite proves to be an efficient, affordable and versatile solution for the mission analysed with a significant science return.