2013.A.1.2 Utilization of a Solar Sail to Perform a Lunar CubeSat Science Mission


Peter Z. Schulte (1), Katharine M. Brumbaugh (1), E. Glenn Lightsey (1), Robert L. Staehle (2)

  1. The University of Texas at Austin, USA
  2. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA




solar sail, CubeSat, lunar science mission, orbital mechanics, trajectory simulation, L2 halo orbit, quasi-periodic oribt, stationkeeping


This study demonstrates a potential method for using a solar sail to enable lunar science missions with CubeSats or similar sized small satellites. The proposed mission concept calls for a CubeSat, initially placed in a low lunar orbit, to undergo an orbit raising maneuver and transition to a halo orbit about the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point. A simulation has been developed in the Sun-Centered Inertial frame, with the thrust of the solar sail varied as a function of time with respect to the angle of incidence of sunlight on the sail. Initial results from this simulation are presented for solar sail trajectories originating from lunar circular orbit and resulting in an outward spiraling orbit that eventually escapes from the Moon. As an extension of such missions, solar sails might be able to inject spacecraft from this outward spiraling orbit into a halo orbit, which with stationkeeping may be stabilized around L2. If implemented, this method would allow small spacecraft to conduct new types of lunar science missions at relatively low costs.


  • Download slides in PDF format here


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