The Sun Diver: Combining solar sails with the Oberth effect

Coryn A.L. Bailer-Jones
A highly reflective sail provides a way to propel a spacecraft out of the solar system using solar radiation pressure. The closer the spacecraft is to the Sun when it starts its outward journey, the larger the radiation pressure and so the larger the final velocity. For a spacecraft starting on the Earth’s orbit, closer proximity can be achieved via a retrograde impulse from a rocket engine. The sail is then deployed at the closest approach to the Sun. Employing the so-called Oberth effect, a second, prograde, impulse at closest approach will raise the final velocity further. Here I investigate how a fixed total impulse (Δv) can best be distributed in this procedure to maximize the sail’s velocity at infinity. Once Δv exceeds a threshold that depends on the lightness number of the sail (a measure of its sun-induced acceleration), the best strategy is to use all of the Δv in the retrograde impulse to dive as close as possible to the Sun. Below the threshold the best strategy is to use all of the Δv in the prograde impulse and thus not to dive at all. Although larger velocities can be achieved with multi-stage impulsive transfers, this study shows some interesting and perhaps counter-intuitive consequences of combining impulses with solar sails.
Read more at arxiv.org/abs/2009.12659

Click to access 2009.12659.pdf

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