The Potential Application of Small Electrically-Propelled Spacecraft to Low-Cost Interplanetary Missions

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D. G. Fearn; S. D. Clark (2007), JBIS, 60, 72-79

Refcode: 2007.60.72
Keywords: Small spacecraft, interplanetary missions, asteroids, electric propulsion, gridded ion thrusters, electric thrusters, spacecraft design, solar arrays, power systems

This paper reports the results of a study into the capabilities offered by an advanced-technology spacecraft, not exceeding 200 kg launch mass, when applied to interplanetary missions requiring very large velocity increments. In order to minimise cost, it was assumed that an auxiliary launch into geostationary transfer orbit would be mandatory and that the on-board propulsion system would be employed to achieve escape velocity, before propelling the vehicle along its interplanetary trajectory. The selected target body was an asteroid, and it was accepted that a rendezvous with this would be required. A total velocity increment of 12 km/s would permit access to a very wide range of these bodies. However, such a large value is attainable only by utilising electric thrusters operating at very high specific impulse. The use of gridded ion thrusters was thus assumed in discussing the mission profile and propulsion requirements. A spacecraft configuration was then proposed and its various systems were defined in sufficient detail to enable a tentative mass budget to be formulated. It was concluded that the basic mass, without margin, would be about 178 kg.

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