July 2, 2022. By Kolemann Lutz
Researchers from Taiwan developed feasibility study to analyse a controlled solar sailing mission to Mars using a 12U 24kg CubeSat platform, which could be revolutionary method to transport small interplanetary payloads. With a given initial velocity of 2000𝑚/𝑠 from RLV, a 50-298 𝑚^2 solar sail could reach Mars within 6-30 months.
The overall mission targets the 12U volume to maximize sail size whilst managing requirements for an interplanetary mission such as radiation hardening, with a maximum weight of 24𝑘𝑔. 8U of this will be reserved for the solar sailing mechanism with all communications handled by NASA’s IRIS V2.1
Deep Space Transponder takes up 0.5U to provide 1-4 kbps data link at 2AU distance. Another 0.5U will be reserved for command and data handling, with 0.5U reserved for the power subsystem. This gives 1.5U for an attitude determination and control subsystem, consisting of a miniature star tracker, reaction wheel system and cold gas thrusters.
This allocation gives 1U volume for payload, which should be sufficient given the low data transmission rate from Mars and can be modified for a specific mission use. 0.48𝑚2 of solar panels give a max power of 112𝑊 at Earth and 48𝑊 at Mars, assuming 80% efficiency, although this value is likely much lower due to the angle relative to the Sun.
The results from 2020 research demonstrate a present-day configurated solar sailing CubeSat can utilise the techniques of solar radiation pressure and aerobraking to transit to and capture within a Martian orbit, taking less than 2 and a half years.
Spacecraft with drag areas of 50𝑚2 or greater begin to represent suitable candidates for aerobraking capture.
"This shows promise of similar techniques being applied to various other
destinations, expanding the potential of solar sails to a wider catalogue of mission applications."
With a 1-4kg+ payload attached to each solar or laser sail, it becomes possible to transport significant mass (hundreds and thousands of kg) beyond Earth to become multiplanetary and interstellar. Novel methods, materials, and architectures on sails may hold potential to increase maxusable payload by 50-100%+.
A 4U+ cubesat may even harbor cryogenically stored algae, archea,and or bacteria to seed other planets with life. With the marriage of cubesats and solar sails (i.e. cubesails), it becomes possible to launch electronics and nano/cubesat systems with GW lasers at up to 20% speed of light, to reach Alpha Centauri 4.37 ly away and others to become multistellar.
Andrew J Tang and Xiaofeng Wu, An Interplanetary Mission Design of a Solar Sailing CubeSat to Mars, Journal of Physics: Conference Series 2020, 114805, ISSN 0019-1035,