Solar Sailcraft of the First Generation - Mission Applications to Near-Earth Asteroids
54th International Astronautical Congress, 2003, Bremen, Germany
Utilizing solely the freely available solar radiation pressure for propulsion, solar sails provide a wide range of opportunities for low-cost deep space missions, many of which are of great scientific relevance and - due to their large ΔV-requirements - difficult or even impossible to accomplish with any other type of conventional propulsion system. But very advanced solar sails that are very large and lightweight are required to perform those missions. Taking the current state-of-the-art in engineering of ultra-lightweight structures into account, solar sails of the first generation will be of relatively moderate performance. It will be shown in this paper that even with such moderate performance solar sailcraft of the first generation, challenging scientific missions are feasible at relatively low cost. Near-Earth asteroids with moderate inclinations are a promising category of target bodies for those solar sailcraft, since they can be accessed relatively easily and since they are of great scientific relevance. Some proposed missions to near-Earth asteroids are analyzed.