NASA has funded the Sunjammer mission - a near term demonstration of solar sail technology (2014/15). Sunjammer has the potential to demonstrate stationkeeping out of Earth's orbital plane. This is a first step in achieving "polesitter" orbits with year-round, real-time visibility of Earth's polar regions. Potential applications for such missions are illustrated. Solar sails have long been a concept for spacecraft propulsion that works by exchanging momentum with sunlight reflected by large, lightweight, mirrored sails. In addition to enabling propellantless propulsion throughout the solar system and beyond, their continuous thrust enables artificial Lagrange orbits (ALOs), some of which can be called "polesitter" orbits, with 24-hour, year-round visibility of Earth's polar regions. Several potential Earth remote sensing applications have been identified that address the limited temporal and spatial coverage from traditional polar and geostationary satellites. The Galileo spacecraft during its 1990 Earth flyby acquired imagery and radiometer data similar to the view from a polesitter. The Galileo imagery was used to derive aerosols and cloud variations used in atmospheric motion vector (AMV) derivations. Composites of satellite imagery over the South Pole is routinely used to derive atmospheric motion vectors like those performed regularly from geostationary satellites. The JAXA IKAROS mission flew a 14x14m solar sail past Venus in 2010. Sunjammer will demonstrate a state of the art 38x38m solar sail from Earth to an artificial Lagrange orbit located sunward and north of the sun-Earth L1 point. Traditional spacecraft can orbit naturally occurring Lagrange equilibrium points between the sun and Earth. The low, continuous thrust of solar sails can change where these points occur, creating new orbits with a variety of potential applications including polar remote sensing, space weather monitoring, and polar communications. This figure illustrates a selection of possible solar sail orbits around the sun-Earth L1 and L2 points.
AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts
- Pub Date:
- December 2012
- 0758 CRYOSPHERE / Remote sensing;
- 3360 ATMOSPHERIC PROCESSES / Remote sensing