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Title: Solar-sail mission design for multiple near-Earth asteroid rendezvous
Author: Peloni, Alessandro
ISNI:       0000 0004 7226 6094
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2018
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Solar sailing is the use of a thin and lightweight membrane to reflect sunlight and obtain a thrust force on the spacecraft. That is, a sailcraft has a potentially-infinite specific impulse and, therefore, it is an attractive solution to reach mission goals otherwise not achievable, or very expensive in terms of propellant consumption. The recent scientific interest in near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and the classification of some of those as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) for the Earth stimulated the interest in their exploration. Specifically, a multiple NEA rendezvous mission is attractive for solar-sail technology demonstration as well as for improving our knowledge about NEAs. A preliminary result in a recent study showed the possibility to rendezvous three NEAs in less than ten years. According to the NASA’s NEA database, more than 12,000 asteroids are orbiting around the Earth and more than 1,000 of them are classified as PHA. Therefore, the selection of the candidates for a multiple-rendezvous mission is firstly a combinatorial problem, with more than a trillion of possible combinations with permutations of only three objects. Moreover, for each sequence, an optimal control problem should be solved to find a feasible solar-sail trajectory. This is a mixed combinatorial/optimisation problem, notoriously complex to tackle all at once. Considering the technology constraints of the DLR/ESA Gossamer roadmap, this thesis focuses on developing a methodology for the preliminary design of a mission to visit a number of NEAs through solar sailing. This is divided into three sequential steps. First, two methods to obtain a fast and reliable trajectory model for solar sailing are studied. In particular, a shape-based approach is developed which is specific to solar-sail trajectories. As such, the shape of the trajectory that connects two points in space is designed and the control needed by the sailcraft to follow it is analytically retrieved. The second method exploits the homotopy and continuation theory to find solar-sail trajectories starting from classical low-thrust ones. Subsequently, an algorithm to search through the possible sequences of asteroids is developed. Because of the combinatorial characteristic of the problem and the tree nature of the search space, two criteria are used to reduce the computational effort needed: (a) a reduced database of asteroids is used which contains objects interesting for planetary defence and human spaceflight; and (b) a local pruning is carried out at each branch of the tree search to discard those target asteroids that are less likely to be reached by the sailcraft considered. To reduce further the computational effort needed in this step, the shape-based approach for solar sailing is used to generate preliminary trajectories within the tree search. Lastly, two algorithms are developed which numerically optimise the resulting trajectories with a refined model and ephemerides. These are designed to work with minimum input required by the user. The shape-based approach developed in the first stage is used as an initial-guess solution for the optimisation. This study provides a set of feasible mission scenarios for informing the stakeholders on future mission options. In fact, it is shown that a large number of five-NEA rendezvous missions are feasible in a ten-year launch window, if a solar sail is used. Moreover, this study shows that the mission-related technology readiness level for the available solar-sail technology is larger than it was previously thought and that such a mission can be performed with current or at least near-term solar sail technology. Numerical examples are presented which show the ability of a solar sail both to perform challenging multiple NEA rendezvous and to change the mission en-route.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Q Science (General) ; QA Mathematics ; QC Physics