Attitude and Translation Control of a Solar Sail Vehicle

A report discusses the ability to control the attitude and translation degrees-of-freedom of a solar sail vehicle by changing its center of gravity. A movement of the spacecraft’s center of mass causes solar- pressure force to apply a torque to the vehicle. At the compact core of the solar-sail vehicle lies the spacecraft bus which is a large fraction of the total vehicle mass. In this concept, the bus is attached to the spacecraft by two single degree-of-freedom linear tracks. This allows relative movement of the bus in the sail plane. At the null position, the resulting solar pressure applies no torque to the vehicle. But any deviation of the bus from the null creates an offset between the spacecraft center of mass and center of solar radiation pressure, resulting in a solar-pressure torque on the vehicle which changes the vehicle attitude. Two of the three vehicle degrees of freedom can be actively controlled in this manner. The third, the roll about the sun-line, requires a low-authority vane/propulsive subsystem.

Translation control of the vehicle is achieved by directing the solar-pressure- induced force in the proper inertial direction. This requires attitude control. Attitude and translation degrees-offreedom are therefore coupled. A guidance law is proposed, which allows the vehicle to stationkeep at an appropriate point on the inertially-rotating Sun-Earth line. Power requirements for moving the bus are minimal. Extensive software simulations have been performed to demonstrate the feasibility of this concept.

This work was done by Gurkirpal Singh of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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