Low-thrust Solar Electric Propulsion trajectories to Near-Earth asteroids
Low-thrust, solar electric propulsion offers a much higher efficiency than conventional chemical propulsion. This advantage comes at the cost of a very small thrust, that must be applied over long time scales. As a consequence, the problem of global trajectory optimization in this setting becomes computationally more difficult to solve.
Recently, such propulsion technology has been proposed for sending small spacecraft, such as Cubesats, to deep space. This would enable "low-cost" missions e.g. to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid
The preliminary analysis of spacecraft missions to asteroids often involves, in the early phases, the selection of candidate targets. The final result of such an analysis is a list of asteroids, ranked with respect to the necessary propellant to be used, that the spacecraft could potentially reach.
In this work we investigate the sensitivity of the produced ranking to the employed trajectory model. We consider four increasingly complex trajectory models: impulsive, nuclear electric propulsion, nuclear electric propulsion including the Earth's gravity, and solar electric propulsion including the Earth's gravity.
We study the final correlation between the resulting asteroid rankings in the specific case of a small low-thrust propelled spacecraft beginning its journey from the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrangian point and heading to a rendezvous with some near-Earth asteroid.
The final ranking obtained using the data of the M-ARGO mission can be found at this page.