Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Desorption-Assisted Sun Diver Missions

"Desorption-Assisted Sun Diver Missions

Gregory Benford1 and James Benford


Solar-driven sails which can also accelerate by "boil off" of coated materials offer new high-velocity missions. These can take advantage of high temperature characteristics of the sail by using the large solar flux at perihelion. For the near term use of beamed power, beam illumination at ~kW/cm2 in LEO can simulate conditions any solar grazer mission will experience to within 0.01 A.U. Sublimation (or desorption) thrust from LEO into interplanetary orbit can omit the several-year orbits conventional solar sails need to reach ~0.1 AU. A second "burn" at perihelion, the highest available orbital velocity in the inner solar system, and thus optimum point for a delta-V, then yields high velocities of ~50 km/s for >40 A.U. missions. The mission begins with deployment in Low Earth Orbit by conventional rocket. Then the launch begins, driven by a microwave beam (and much smaller solar photon thrust) from nearby in orbit. Beam heating makes a "paint" (polymer layer #1) desorp from the sail. Under this enhanced thrust, in repeated shots at.perihelion in steepening elliptical orbits, the sail attains ~15 km/s velocity, canceling most of its solar orbital velocity, and so can fall edge-on toward the sun immediately. (This is far faster than using solar pressure to spiral down, which takes years.) It approaches the sun edge-on, to minimize radiation pressure on it in the inward fall. At perihelion the spacecraft rotates to face the sun. Under intense sunlight ~20 times Earth insolation, the sail desorps away polymer #2, getting a ~50 km/s boost at its maximum (infall) velocity. It then sails away as a conventional, reflecting solar sail, with the final Aluminum layer revealed. Its final speed is after leaving the solar potential well is ~ 10 AU/year. Within ~5 years, it sails beyond Pluto, giving high velocity mapping of the outer solar system, the heliopause and interstellar medium."

Full paper here

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