Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Effect of Changing the Step Size on the Light Sail's Orbits

  Since the light sail's orbit appeared to show signs of a deteriorating perigee I tried playing with the attitude of the sail relative to the direction of sunlight to get relatively more angular acceleration. In the figure below the direction on sunlight is to the left. The light sail's acceleration is along its normal n which is at an angle α relative to the horizontal axis. The changes to the equations of motion are also shown.

The angle of the sail was set to α=π/2-θ when it was above the x-axis and moving away from the Sun and α=π/2 when it was below in order to restrict the acceleration some. The behavior was sensitive to the size of the step so Δt was set to 10 seconds. This gave better results for the behavior of Δr=r-r0.

It still drifts away from a ballistic object in the original circular orbit due to changes in the eccentricity and the period of the orbit.

Changing the step size resulted in a closer match of the light sail's Δv's with the transfer orbit  Δv's for insertion into the higher circular orbit.

So it appears that a light sail can make changes to a transfer orbit. Unfortunate, the apogee is on the sunward half of the orbit and one can't use sunlight to accelerate towards the sun to go into a higher circular orbit. This is where an auxiliary propulsion system would be needed if one wanted to do orbit changes. A flyby mission would not require orbit insertion.

Supplemental (Aug 1): After the passage of half a year the sunlight will be in the opposite direction (to the right in the first figure) and the Δv will be directed properly for insertion into the higher circular orbit. It may be possible for a light sail to slowly work its way out of a gravity well.

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