Realistic Earth escape strategies for solar sailing

Malcolm Macdonald, Colin R. McInnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
101 Downloads (Pure)


With growing interest in solar sailing comes the requirement to provide a basis for future detailed planetary escape mission analysis by drawing together prior work, clarifying and explaining previously anomalies. Previously unexplained seasonal variations in sail escape times from Earth orbit are explained analytically and corroborated within a numerical trajectory model. Blended-sail control algorithms, explicitly independent of time, which providenear-optimal escape trajectories and maintain a safe minimum altitude and which are suitable as a potential autonomous onboard controller, are then presented. These algorithms are investigated from a range of initial conditions and are shown to maintain the optimality previously demonstrated by the use of a single-energy gain control law but without the risk of planetary collision. Finally, it is shown that the minimum sail characteristic acceleration required for escape from a polar orbit without traversing the Earth shadow cone increases exponentially as initial altitude is decreased.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-323
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • solar sailing
  • solar sails
  • propulsion
  • space travel
  • guidance systems


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