A Ceres Micromission using Electric Propulsion

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B. Parkinson (2006), JBIS, 59, 306-312

Refcode: 2006.59.306
Keywords: Ceres, minor planets, micromission, solar electric propulsion, spacecraft design

The largest asteroids represent targets of scientific interest, providing objects different in kind from the larger planets and moons already visited and also the “undifferentiated rocks” of the smaller asteroids. A micromission approach to their exploration would take advantage of developments in equipment miniaturization and new technologies, using a sharply focussed mission objective to reduce spacecraft size and mission costs. An example micromission to Ceres using solar-electric propulsion is described, including a possible micro-lander, and the constraints and trade-offs involved in achieving such a mission with a small spacecraft (~350 kg) evaluated. Since the V requirements for rendezvous with main-belt asteroids are high, power and thrust-to-mass ratios are critical to the performance. Rather than increasing spacecraft size to devote a greater fraction to power and propulsion, an approach minimizing mass in “core” systems allows electric propulsion to use smaller thrusters and lower power levels. Mission design must also take advantage of the higher power levels that are available early in the mission when the spacecraft is closer to the Sun to avoid excessive thrusting times from the ion motors.

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