Articles | Volume 2, issue 1
Research article
19 Feb 2013
Research article |  | 19 Feb 2013

Electric solar wind sail mass budget model

P. Janhunen, A. A. Quarta, and G. Mengali

Abstract. The electric solar wind sail (E-sail) is a new type of propellantless propulsion system for Solar System transportation, which uses the natural solar wind to produce spacecraft propulsion. The E-sail consists of thin centrifugally stretched tethers that are kept charged by an onboard electron gun and, as such, experience Coulomb drag through the high-speed solar wind plasma stream. This paper discusses a mass breakdown and a performance model for an E-sail spacecraft that hosts a mission-specific payload of prescribed mass. In particular, the model is able to estimate the total spacecraft mass and its propulsive acceleration as a function of various design parameters such as the number of tethers and their length. A number of subsystem masses are calculated assuming existing or near-term E-sail technology. In light of the obtained performance estimates, an E-sail represents a promising propulsion system for a variety of transportation needs in the Solar System.