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Flight times to the heliopause using a combination of solar and radioisotope electric propulsion

  • We investigate the interplanetary flight of a low-thrust space probe to the heliopause,located at a distance of about 200 AU from the Sun. Our goal was to reach this distance within the 25 years postulated by ESA for such a mission (which is less ambitious than the 15-year goal set by NASA). Contrary to solar sail concepts and combinations of allistic and electrically propelled flight legs, we have investigated whether the set flight time limit could also be kept with a combination of solar-electric propulsion and a second, RTG-powered upper stage. The used ion engine type was the RIT-22 for the first stage and the RIT-10 for the second stage. Trajectory optimization was carried out with the low-thrust optimization program InTrance, which implements the method of Evolutionary Neurocontrol,using Artificial Neural Networks for spacecraft steering and Evolutionary Algorithms to optimize the Neural Networks’ parameter set. Based on a parameter space study, in which the number of thrust units, the unit’s specific impulse, and the relative size of the solar power generator were varied, we have chosen one configuration as reference. The transfer time of this reference configuration was 29.6 years and the fastest one, which is technically more challenging, still required 28.3 years. As all flight times of this parameter study were longer than 25 years, we further shortened the transfer time by applying a launcher-provided hyperbolic excess energy up to 49 km2/s2. The resulting minimal flight time for the reference configuration was then 27.8 years. The following, more precise optimization to a launch with the European Ariane 5 ECA rocket reduced the transfer time to 27.5 years. This is the fastest mission design of our study that is flexible enough to allow a launch every year. The inclusion of a fly-by at Jupiter finally resulted in a flight time of 23.8 years,which is below the set transfer-time limit. However, compared to the 27.5-year transfer,this mission design has a significantly reduced launch window and mission flexibility if the escape direction is restricted to the heliosphere’s “nose".

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Author:Andreas Ohndorf, Bernd DachwaldORCiD, Wolfgang Seboldt, Karl-Heinz Schartner
Parent Title (English):32nd International Electric Propulsion Conference
Document Type:Conference Proceeding
Year of Completion:2011
Date of the Publication (Server):2022/04/04
Tag:heliosphere; ion propulsion; low-thrust trajectory optimization
First Page:1
Last Page:12
32nd International Electric Propulsion Conference,September 11–15, 2011
Wiesbaden, Germany
Institutes:FH Aachen / Fachbereich Luft- und Raumfahrttechnik
FH Aachen / IfB - Institut für Bioengineering