A report proposes a method of utilizing solar-radiation pressure to keep the axis of rotation of a small spin-stabilized spacecraft pointed approximately (typically, within an angle of 10° to 20°) toward the Sun. Axisymmetry is not required. Simple tilted planar vanes would be attached to the outer surface of the body, so that the resulting spacecraft would vaguely resemble a rotary fan, windmill, or propeller. The vanes would be painted black for absorption of Solar radiation. A theoretical analysis based on principles of geometric optics and mechanics has shown that torques produced by Solar-radiation pressure would cause the axis of rotation to precess toward Sun-pointing. The required vane size would be a function of the angular momentum of the spacecraft and the maximum acceptable angular deviation from Sun-pointing. The analysis also shows that the torques produced by the vanes would slowly despin the spacecraft — an effect that could be counteracted by adding specularly reflecting "spin-up" vanes.

This work was done by Thomas Spilker of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Mechanics category. NPO-40047.


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Quasi-Sun-Pointing of Spacecraft Using Radiation Pressure

(reference NPO-40047) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the November, 2003 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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