Solar sailing: orbital mechanics and mission applications

C.R. McInnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Solar sailing is a unique and elegant form of propulsion which transcends reliance on reaction mass. Rather than carrying propellant, solar sails gain momentum from photons, the quantum packets of energy from which sunlight is composed. Since solar sails are not limited by reaction mass, they can provide continual acceleration, limited only by the lifetime of the sail film in the space environment. Therefore, solar sails can expand the envelope of possible missions, enabling new high-energy mission concepts that are essentially impossible for conventional reaction propulsion, and enhancing current mission concepts by lowering launch mass and reducing trip times. This paper will review the orbital mechanics of solar sails and illustrate some of the unique orbits which are enabled by the technology, in addition to practical mission applications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1971-1980
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • solar sails
  • astronautical engineering
  • orbits
  • space research


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