This paper proposes the use of solar-sail technology currently under development at NASA Langley Research Center for a CubeSat rendezvous mission with asteroid 2016 HO3, a quasi-satellite of Earth. Time-optimal trajectories are sought for within a 2022–2023 launch window, starting from an assumed launcher ejection condition in the Earth-Moon system. The optimal control problem is solved through a particular implementation of a direct pseudo-spectral method for which initial guesses are generated through a relatively simple and straightforward genetic algorithm search on the optimal launch date and sail attitude. The results show that the trajectories take 2.16–4.21 years to complete, depending on the assumed solar-sail reflectance model and solar-sail technology. To assess the performance of solar-sail propulsion for this mission, the trajectory is also designed assuming the use of solar electric propulsion. The resulting fuel-optimal trajectories take longer to complete than the solar-sail trajectories and require a propellant consumption that exceeds the expected propellant capacity onboard the CubeSat. This comparison demonstrates the superior performance of solar-sail technology for this mission.
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Jeannette Heiligers would like to acknowledge support from the Marie Skłdowska-Curie Individual Fellowship 658645-S4ILS: Solar Sailing for Space Situational Awareness in the Lunar System.
Jeannette Heiligers is an assistant professor in astrodynamics and space missions at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), the Netherlands. She received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from TU Delft in 2008, after which she briefly worked as a junior project manager in the Dutch space industry. She returned to academia and completed her Ph.D. degree at the Advanced Space Concepts Laboratory (ASCL) of the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK, in 2012, after which she continued at the ASCL as a research fellow. In 2015 she was awarded a European Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellowship to conduct research at both the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research (CCAR) of the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, and TU Delft. Her research focuses on orbital dynamics, low-thrust trajectory optimization, and mission design with a strong focus on the mission enabling potential of solar sailing.
Juan M. “Johnny” Fernandez is a research aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center. Prior to joining NASA Langley in 2014, he led several technology development projects at the University of Surrey, Surrey Space Centre related to deployable composite structures, solar sails, and satellite deorbiting systems, including the CubeSail, DeorbitSail, and InflateSail CubeSat projects, and the Gossamer Deorbiter project for ESA. He led composites solar sail system risk-reduction efforts for the NASA Near Earth Asteroid Scout 6U project in 2016, and is currently Principal Investigator for the NASA Game Changing Development Program’s Deployable Composite Booms project. He is currently a member of the AIAA Spacecraft Structures Technical Committee, and chair of the AIAA High Strain Composites Spacecraft Structures Sub-Committee.
Olive R. Stohlman is a research aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center. Her primary areas of research are the testing and analysis of large deployable structures. Since joining NASA Langley Research Center in 2014, she has worked on the thermal-structural interaction analysis of the Near Earth Asteroid Scout solar sail and on sail membrane design and packaging for the Advanced Composite Solar Sail Project. She is a member of the AIAA Spacecraft Structures Technical Committee.
W. Keats Wilkie is the solar sail systems and technology team lead at NASA Langley Research Center and the Principal Investigator for the NASA Small Spacecraft Technology Program Advanced Composite Solar Sail Project. He has over 30 years of technology development experience in multifunctional structures, structural dynamics, and deployable space structures with NASA, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech. Since 2010, he has been head of the Structural Dynamics Branch at NASA Langley, principal investigator for NASA Langley’s heliogyro advanced solar sail technology development efforts, and project manager for NEA Scout composite solar sail risk reduction activities, including follow-on composite solar sail system flight concept development efforts. He is currently a member of the AIAA Spacecraft Structures Technical Committee.
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Heiligers, J., Fernandez, J.M., Stohlman, O.R. et al. Trajectory design for a solar-sail mission to asteroid 2016 HO3. Astrodyn 3, 231–246 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42064-019-0061-1
- asteroid 2016 HO3
- solar sail
- solar electric propulsion
- trajectory design
- trajectory optimization