Electric propulsion system scaling for asteroid capture-and-return missions

Justin M. Little, Edgar Y. Choueiri

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


The requirements for an electric propulsion system needed to maximize the return mass of asteroid capture-and-return (ACR) missions are investigated in detail. An analytical model is presented for the mission time and mass balance of an ACR mission based on the propellant requirements of each mission phase. Edelbaum's approximation is used for the Earth-escape phase. The asteroid rendezvous and return phases of the mission are modeled as a low-thrust optimal control problem with a lunar assist. The numerical solution to this problem is used to derive scaling laws for the propellant requirements based on the maneuver time, asteroid orbit, and propulsion system parameters. Constraining the rendezvous and return phases by the synodic period of the target asteroid, a semiempirical equation is obtained for the optimum specific impulse and power supply. It was found analytically that the optimum power supply is one such that the mass of the propulsion system and power supply are approximately equal to the total mass of propellant used during the entire mission. Finally, it is shown that ACR missions, in general, are optimized using propulsion systems capable of processing 100 kW - 1 MW of power with specific impulses in the range 5,000 - 10,000 s, and have the potential to return asteroids on the order of 103 - 104 tons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication49th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint PropulsionConference
StatePublished - 2013
Event49th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint PropulsionConference - San Jose, CA, United States
Duration: Jul 14 2013Jul 17 2013

Publication series

Name49th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference


Other49th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint PropulsionConference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Jose, CA

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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