Mission analysis and systems design of a near-term and far-term pole-sitter mission

Jeannette Heiligers, Matteo Ceriotti, Colin McInnes, James Biggs

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15 Citations (Scopus)
129 Downloads (Pure)


This paper provides a detailed mission analysis and systems design of a near-term and far-term polesitter mission. The pole-sitter concept was previously introduced as a solution to the poor temporal resolution of polar observations from highly inclined, low Earth orbits and the poor high-latitude coverage from geostationary orbit. It considers a spacecraft that is continuously above either the north or south pole and, as such, can provide real-time, continuous and hemispherical coverage of the polar regions. Being on a non-Keplerian orbit, a continuous thrust is required to maintain the pole-sitter position. For this, two different propulsion strategies are proposed, which result in a near-term pole-sitter mission using solar electric propulsion (SEP) and a far-term pole-sitter mission where the SEP thruster is hybridized with a solar sail. For both propulsion strategies, minimum propellant pole-sitter orbits are designed. In order to maximize the spacecraft mass at the start of the operations phase of the mission, the transfer from Earth to the pole-sitter orbit is designed and optimized assuming either a Soyuz or an Ariane 5 launch. The maximized mass upon injection into the pole-sitter orbit is subsequently used in a detailed mass budget analysis that will allow for a trade-off between mission lifetime and payload mass capacity. Also, candidate payloads for a range of applications are investigated. Finally, transfers between north and south pole-sitter orbits are considered to overcome the limitations in observations due to the tilt of the Earth’s rotational axis that causes the poles to be alternately situated in darkness. It will be shown that in some cases these transfers allow for propellant savings, enabling a further extension of the pole-sitter mission.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-469
JournalActa Astronautica
Issue number1
Early online date24 Jan 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014
Event1st IAA Conference on Dynamics and Control of Space Systems - Porto, Portugal
Duration: 19 Mar 201221 Mar 2012


  • pole-sitter
  • polar observation
  • trajectory optimisation
  • solar electric propulsion (SEP)
  • solar sailing
  • hybrid propulsion


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