Design of spherical solar sails for spacecraft attitude maneuvers

Alexey N. Fedorenko, Eugene N. Chumachenko, David W. Dunham, Natan A. Eismont

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


A solar sail is a surface with high reflectance of light. Solar radiation pressure accelerates a spacecraft without any fuel costs and can thus be used to substitute for traditional jets to accomplish many space missions. If the surface has variable reflective characteristics, for instance, using electric current, then solar pressure control can generate rotational torques for attitude control. Consider a solar sail with six spheres attached by mutually orthogonal long rods. Each sphere's entire surface is divided into pixels and each pixel can be specified in an active or non-active mode. Active pixels reflect most of the radiation while non-active pixels absorb it. Consequently, the radiation pressure force on each pixel in different modes is different. In this work, it is shown that after determining the necessary dimensions of the solar sail's structure, pixel reflectance control allows rotation of the entire structure with known moments of inertia around any axis with a predefined accuracy. The spacecraft is assumed to be in an Earth orbit, so gravity gradient torque is considered as another major impact that depends on the orbital altitude. A special program written in C++ was developed that establishes the required parameters of this solar sail and executes an algorithm of rotation around an arbitrary axis with predefined orientation. In each time point, it calculates the appropriate pixel configuration, defines attitude, rotation moments, angular velocities and simulates the full structure's rotation. After program testing, analytical results were obtained, including estimation of rotation torques and angular velocity that depend on the space vehicle's geometry and mass parameters, optical coefficients of the material and the pixel size. These parameters can be used to determine the feasibility of executing the rotation maneuver with such a solar sail in a real space mission. The evaluation the length of rods and the radius of the spheres for the maneuver provides a chance for engineering accomplishment. Copyright

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication64th International Astronautical Congress 2013, IAC 2013
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781629939094
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes
Event64th International Astronautical Congress 2013, IAC 2013 - Beijing, China
Duration: 23 Sep 201327 Sep 2013

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Conference64th International Astronautical Congress 2013, IAC 2013


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