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Solar sail H-reversal trajectory: A review of its advances and applications


The set of the orbital angular-momentum reversal, or H-reversal, sailcraft trajectory was born as a type of unconventional precursor interstellar mission trajectory by using highperformance solar sails. Starting from an outline of the H-reversal sail trajectory, this paper mainly focuses on the 2D reversal-mode solution to the general solar-photon sail motion equations. The feasible region for H-reversal trajectories in fixed sail attitude angles is illustrated. Some interesting applications of the H-reversal trajectory are presented in detail to show its advantages. As a special case, a precursor interstellar probe can be delivered with a constant sail orientation in the H-reversal trajectory to be compared with the direct-motion sail flyby of the Sun. Of importance are the heliocentric periodic orbits in double H-reversal modes, obtained via both fixed and time-varying sail attitude angles. Two more applications involving H-reversal trajectories are discussed in terms of asteroid deflection and transfer trajectory to rectilinear orbits. Finally, some items of the mathematics behind the 3D motion-reversal trajectories are summarized.

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This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 11602019) and the Young Elite Scientist Sponsorship Program by CAST (2016QNRC001). The Excellent Young Teachers Program of Beijing Institute of Technology (2015YG0605) is acknowledged as well.

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Correspondence to Xiangyuan Zeng.

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Xiangyuan Zeng is an associate professor in the School of Automation, Beijing Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. degree of Mechanics from Tsinghua University, in 2013, and worked there as a postdoctor until 2015. He was ever a visiting scholar of Texas A&M University from 2011 to 2012, and a visiting professor in Sapienza University of Rome, in 2018, supported by the Young Elite Scientist Sponsorship Program by CAST (YESS). His current research interests are astrodynamics near asteroids, surface dynamics and bionic robots for surface explorations.

Giovanni Vulpetti has received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, in 1969 and 1973, respectively. He specialized in astrodynamics, and wrote many tens of scientific papers about interstellar flight, astrodynamics and propulsion concepts, in particular the matterantimatter annihilation propulsion. In 1979, he joined Telespazio SpA in Italy. From 1995 to 2013, he has been a member of the IAA committee for Lunar Base & Mars exploration. In 2001, he was a consultant at NASA/MSFC for studying the astrodynamics of NASA Interstellar Probe. He has implemented large computer codes for mission analysis and trajectory optimization via rockets and solar-sails. In 1990s, he contributed to the IAA committee for small satellites. As an application, he proposed and got the approval from Telespazio’s CEO for the Telespazio’s micro-satellite named TEMISAT, which launched in 1993, from the base Plesetsk in Russia. From 2006 to 2007, he worked for the company Galilean Plus S.r.l. in Italy as the chief scientist, where he contributed to the program of the Italian Space Agency. After that, he served as the guest managing editor of Acta Astronautica, in 2009 and 2014, respectively. Since 2013, he has been a senior guest lecturer at the Department of Astronautical Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome. Since 1994, he has been a full member of the International Academy of Astronautics in France.

Christian Circi is currently an assistant professor in flight mechanics at the Department of Astronautical, Electrical and Energy Engineering, Sapienza University of Rome. He got his M.S. degrees in aeronautical engineering and aerospace engineering, and pursued his Ph.D. degree in aerospace engineering at Sapienza University of Rome. He worked as a researcher at the Grupo de Mecanica of Vuelo-Madrid (GMV), and a research assistant at the Department of Aerospace Engineering. He is a lecturer in “Interplanetary Trajectories” and “Flight Mechanics of Launcher” in the master degree course of Space and Astronautical Engineering at Sapienza University of Rome. His principal research fields are: third-body and solar perturbations, interplanetary and lunar trajectories, solar sail, orbits for planetary observation and ascent trajectory of Launcher. He is an associate editor for the journals of Aerospace Science and Technology, and International Journal of Aerospace Engineering.

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Zeng, X., Vulpetti, G. & Circi, C. Solar sail H-reversal trajectory: A review of its advances and applications. Astrodyn 3, 1–15 (2019).

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  • solar-photon sailing
  • sailcraft
  • lightness number
  • orbital H-reversal mode