An alternative novel mission concept has been recently conceived based on conductive tethers providing both power and propulsion at Jupiter to allow a cost-effective tour of the Jovian system including rendezvous with the moons Io and Europa.
Mission concepts to Jupiter
The challenges concerning the required propellant mass and power for most mission concepts to the outer planets is a significant one. Conventional solar photovoltaics become ineffective at such distances from the sun, where the solar irradiance is weak. Equally the power produced by radioisotope thermal generators may be insufficient for the mission requirements. This leaves in-space nuclear power - a long awaited technology for achieving high power and thrust at the outer planets.
For Jupiter, however, there may be an alternative. Because of Jupiter’s weak gradient in gravitational field, it has been shown that electrodynamic tethers can, in principal, be deployed from spacecraft, producing both power, and thrust, by means of the Lorentz force . Such a concept would remove the current problems in finding a suitable power source, and propellant for missions to Jupiter.
An Ariadna study was conducted on the concept of using an electrodynamic tether to explore Jupiter with microsatellites. The analysis in this study offers a potential solution to the power and thrust requirements for future ESA missions to the Jovian system.
- Sanmartin and Lorenzini, in Proceedings of the 8th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference, Huntsville, AL, USA, October 20-24, 2003.
- Sanmartin and Lorenzini, “Exploration of Outer Planets Using Tethers for Power and Propulsion”, AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power, Vol. 21, No. 3, May-June 2005.
Sanmartin, J.R., M. Charro, E. Lorenzini, and H. Garrett. 2006. “Electrodynamic Tether Microsats at the Giant Planets.” 05-3203 European Space Agency, the Advanced Concepts Team. [link]
Sanmartin, J.R., M. Charro, E. Lorenzini, H. Garrett, C. Bombardelli, and C. Bramanti. 2008. “Electrodynamic Tether at Jupiter. II. Fast Moon Tour after Capture.” In IEEETPS. [link]
Sanmartin, J.R., M. Charro, E. Lorenzini, H. Garrett, C. Bramanti, and C. Bombardelli. 2007. “Electrodynamic Tether at Jupiter. 2. Tour Missions after Capture.” In Proceedings of 10th Spacecraft Charging Technology Conference, Biaritz, France. [link]
———. 2007. “Electrodynamic Tether at Jupiter. 1. Capture Operations and Constrains.” In Proceedings of European Geophysical Union Conference, Vienna, Austria. [link]