Professor Plots Course For Sun-Studying Spacecraft

April 23, 1998

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A Purdue University professor and two of her doctoral students have designed the trajectory for an upcoming space mission, which may shed light on the composition of the sun.

Kathleen Howell, professor of aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Purdue, in collaboration with her students and Jet Propulsion Laboratory colleague Martin Lo, designed the trajectory for the spacecraft that will carry out the Genesis Mission, scheduled for launch in 2001 by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The primary goal of the mission is to collect solar wind particles -- material being swept out of the sun -- and return them to Earth for analysis.

The Genesis Mission is the newest addition to NASA's Discovery Class Program, which is charged with building lower-cost, highly focused scientific spacecraft.

The solar wind particles collected will include samples of isotopes of oxygen, nitrogen, the noble gases and other elements. The spacecraft will return the samples to Earth in 2003.

"This information can be used to validate theories concerning the composition of several objects in the solar system, including the sun and planetary atmospheres," Howell says. "To successfully collect these particles, the spacecraft must be beyond the magnetosphere of Earth. However, to keep the mission operation costs low, the spacecraft needs to remain as close to Earth as possible."

The trajectory Howell designed with her students, Brian Barden of West Lafayette and Roby Wilson of Vincennes, Ind., will put the spacecraft in "orbit" near a libration point in the sun-Earth system, nearly a million miles from Earth in the direction of the sun. A libration point, or Lagrange point, is where the gravitational pull from two or more heavenly bodies, plus the centrifugal force from their rotation, cancel each other out.

"These orbits are very complicated, much more complex than the orbit of a planet around the sun, which is why we often refer to the orbit as 'near' a libration point instead of 'around' a libration point," Howell says.

Howell, who has 15 years of experience in trajectory design for libration point missions, says a spacecraft in orbit near a libration point offers a stable venue for making observations and taking data. "Satellites in this region help us better understand the environment around the sun and Earth," she says. "A trajectory about one of these points is the ideal platform for this mission."

The spacecraft will gather solar particles for about two years before it returns to Earth, where it will be retrieved from the air over the Utah desert.
-end-


Purdue University

Related Spacecraft Articles from Brightsurf:

Final images from Cassini spacecraft
Researchers are busy analysing some of the final data sent back from the Cassini spacecraft which has been in orbit around Saturn for more than 13 years until the end of its mission in September 2017.

New nano-barrier for composites could strengthen spacecraft payloads
The University of Surrey has developed a robust multi-layed nano-barrier for ultra-lightweight and stable carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRPs) that could be used to build high precision instrument structures for future space missions.

'Oumuamua is not an alien spacecraft
Early reports of the interstellar visitor 'Oumuamua's odd characteristics led some to speculate that the object could be an alien spacecraft, sent from a distant civilization to examine our star system.

NASA's TESS spacecraft starts science operations
NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite has started its search for planets around nearby stars, officially beginning science operations on July 25, 2018.

NASA spacecraft finds new type of magnetic explosion
Four NASA spacecraft have observed magnetic reconnection in a turbulent region of the Earth's outer atmosphere known as the magnetosheath, the planet's first line of defense against the intensity of the solar wind.

do spacecraft, newborns and endangered shellfish have in common?
Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have developed a microbial detection technique so sensitive that it allows them to detect as few as 50-100 bacterial cells present on a surface.

Promising sensors for submarines, mines and spacecraft
Researchers from the Physics Department of Moscow State University and their colleagues have discovered a mechanism that allows gas sensors, based on nanocrystalline metal oxides, to work at room temperature.

NASA'S OSIRIS-REx spacecraft slingshots past Earth
NASA's asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth's gravity on Friday to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next August.

On the road to creating an electrodeless spacecraft propulsion engine
Experiments by researchers give clues about the behavior of plasma in different environments.

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
NASA's Van Allen Probes uncover new phenomena in our near-Earth environment with their unique double orbit.

Read More: Spacecraft News and Spacecraft Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.