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Electric Sail Propulsion for Deep Space MissionsElectrostatic Sail (E-sail) propulsion extracts momentum from the solar wind, which has minimal speeds of 400 km/sec, through electrostatic repulsion of the positively charged solar wind ions. This momentum exchange is accomplished by an array of multi-kilometer-length charged tethers biased to a high positive voltage, producing an electric field around the tethers that deflect the positively charged solar wind particles. This electric field grows in diameter as the spacecraft moves away from the sun, increasing the E-sail effective area. The growth of the E-sail effective area allows the created propulsive force to decrease at a rate closer to 1/r out to distances from the sun of up to 20 Astronomical Units (AU). This is unlike solar sail propulsion, where the thrust decreases at a rate of 1/r2 and is only effective out to distances of ~5 AU. The propulsive force is applied without expending any propellant. Although the thrust generated by an E-Sail is low, it can be applied continuously over a period of years (depending on the mission type), and can push a 500 kg spacecraft to tremendous velocities—as high as 12 AU per year—making the voyage to 600 AU in as few as 50 years after launch. The NASA Marshall Space Flight Center recently completed a NASA Innovative Advanced Concept (NIAC) study in which all of the major system- and subsystem-level aspects of an E-Sail-propelled vehicle were assessed and a maturation plan developed. If implemented, E-Sail propulsion could be realized and deployed as a viable option for space missions within a decade.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Johnson, Les
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Polzin, Kurt
(NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Date Acquired
October 28, 2019
Publication Date
October 21, 2019
Subject Category
Spacecraft Propulsion And Power
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: International Astronautical Congress (IAC)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Country: United States
Start Date: October 21, 2019
End Date: October 25, 2019
Sponsors: International Astronautical Federation (IAF-HQ)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Technical Review
Single Expert
Interstellar Probe
Electric Sail
In-Space Propulsion
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