Solar sail formation flying for deep-space remote sensing

James Biggs, Colin McInnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
95 Downloads (Pure)


In this paper we consider how 'near' term solar sails can be used in formation above the ecliptic plane to provide platforms for accurate and continuous remote sensing of the polar regions of the Earth. The dynamics of the solar sail elliptical restricted three-body problem (ERTBP) are exploited for formation flying by identifying a family of periodic orbits above the ecliptic plane. Moreover, we find a family of 1 year periodic orbits where each orbit corresponds to a unique solar sail orientation using a numerical continuation method. It is found through a number of example numerical simulations that this family of orbits can be used for solar sail formation flying. Furthermore, it is illustrated numerically that Solar Sails can provide stable formation keeping platforms that are robust to injection errors. In addition practical trajectories that pass close to the Earth and wind onto these periodic orbits above the ecliptic are identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)670-678
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • solar sails
  • orbits
  • control systems
  • remote sensing
  • deep space
  • space travel
  • spacecraft


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