Solar Sail Missions to Interstellar Objects

Interstellar Objects (ISOs), a new and exciting class of asteroids and comets, offer a unique scientific opportunity to answer fundamental scientific questions about the origin of solar system volatiles, the compositions of exo-solar systems, and the transfer rates of material between solar systems. Unfortunately, their high characteristic energies make them difficult to reach, especially with the limited lead time offered by present detection technology. We aim to use exotic forms of propulsion – high-performance solar sails known as statites and hybrid-low thrust systems that combine solar sails with electric propulsion – to enable missions to these difficult to reach targets. During the Phase I study, we demonstrated the feasibility of the concept using trajectory optimization methods, characterized the performance possible using sail materials under development, and generated synthetic ISO ephemerides. In the future, we intend to expand on these developments and being to determine specific scientific objectives and spacecraft bus design.

Image: The Planetary Society