Static highly elliptical orbits using hybrid low-thrust propulsion

Pamela Anderson, Malcolm Macdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
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Static highly-elliptical orbits enabled using hybrid solar-sail/solar-electric propulsion are investigated. These newly proposed orbits, termed Taranis orbits, have free selection of ‘critical inclination’ and use low-thrust propulsion to compensate for the drift in argument of perigee caused by Earth’s gravitational field. In this paper, a 12-hr Taranis orbit with an inclination of 90deg is developed to illustrate the principle. The acceleration required to
enable this novel orbit is made up partly by the acceleration produced by solar-sails of various characteristic accelerations, and the remainder supplied by the electric thruster. Order of magnitude mission lifetimes are determined, a strawman mass budget is also developed for two system constraints, firstly spacecraft launch-mass is fixed, and secondly the maximum thrust of the thruster is constrained. Fixing maximum thrust increases mission lifetimes, and solar-sails are considered near to mid-term technologies. However, fixing mass results in negligible increases in mission lifetimes for all hybrid cases considered, solar sails also require significant development. This distinction highlights an important contribution to the field, illustrating that addition of a solar-sail to an electric propulsion craft can have negligible benefit when mass is the primary system constraint. Technology requirements are also outlined, including sizing of solar-arrays, propellant tanks and solar sails.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)870-880
JournalJournal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics
Issue number3
Early online date1 Aug 2012
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • elliptical orbit
  • low-thrust propulsion
  • Taranis orbits
  • solar sails

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