Continuous Planetary Polar Observation from Hybrid Pole-Sitters at Venus, Earth, and Mars

Jeannette Heiligers, Tom van den Oever, M. Ceriotti, P. Mulligan, CR McInnes

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A pole-sitter is a satellite that is stationed along the polar axis of the Earth, or any other planet, to generate a continuous, hemispherical view of the planet’s polar regions. In order to maintain such a vantage point, a low-thrust propulsion system is required to counterbalance the gravitational attraction of the planet and the Sun. Previous work has considered the use of solar electric propulsion (SEP) or a hybrid configuration of an SEP thruster and a solar sail to produce the required acceleration. By subsequently optimising the propellant consumption by the thruster, estimates of the mission performance in terms of the payload capacity and mission lifetime have been obtained. This paper builds on these results and aims at lifting the pole-sitter concept to the next level by extending the work both from a technical and conceptual perspective: from a technical perspective, this paper will further improve the mission performance by optimising the pole-sitter orbits for the payload capacity or mission lifetime instead of for the propellant consumption. The results show that, at Earth, this allows improvements in the order of 5-10 percent in terms of payload capacity and mission lifetime. Furthermore, on a conceptual level, this paper will, for the first time, investigate the possibility of so-called quasi-pole-sitter orbits. For quasi-pole-sitter orbits the requirement to be exactly on the polar axis is relaxed to allow some movement around the polar axis as long as continuous observation of the entire polar region at a desired minimum elevation angle is achieved. This ultimately enables solar sail-only pole-sitter orbits that are no longer limited in performance by the SEP propellant consumption. Finally, this paper extends all analyses to other inner Solar System planets, showing that Mars provides excellent conditions for a pole-sitter platform with its low mass and relatively far distance from the Sun. With this extension of the pole-sitter concept to other planets as well as considering, for the first time, the option of quasi-pole-sitter orbits, the concept is lifted to the next level, strengthening the feasibility and utility of these orbits for continuous planetary polar observation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Fourth International Symposium on
Subtitle of host publicationKyoto, Japan, 17-20 Jan 2017
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Event4th International Symposium on Solar Sailing - Kyoto Research Park, Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 17 Jan 201720 Jan 2017
Conference number: 4


Conference4th International Symposium on Solar Sailing
Abbreviated titleISSS 2017
Internet address


  • Pole-sitter
  • Polar Observation
  • Trajectory Optimisation
  • Low-thrust propulsion
  • Solar Sailing


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