Low cost Mercury orbiter and Mercury sample return missions using solar sail propulsion

Colin McInnes, Gareth W. Hughes, M. Macdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)


The use of solar sail propulsion is investigated for both Mercury orbiter (MO) and Mercury sample return missions (MeSR). It will be demonstrated that solar sail propulsion can significantly reduce launch mass and enhance payload mass fractions for MO missions, while MeSR missions are enabled, again with a relatively low launch mass. Previous investigations of MeSR type missions using solar electric propulsion have identified a requirement for an Ariane V launcher to deliver a lander and sample return vehicle. The analysis presented in this paper demonstrates that, in principle, a MeSR mission can be enabled using a single Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle, leading to significant reductions in launch mass and mission costs. Similarly, it will be demonstrated that the full payload of the ESA Bepi Colombo orbiter mission can be delivered to Mercury using a Soyuz-Fregat launch vehicle, rather than Ariane V, again leading to a reduction in mission costs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-478
Number of pages9
JournalAeronautical Journal
Issue number1074
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2003


  • solar sail propulsion
  • Mercury orbiter missions
  • Mercury sample return missions

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