Articles | Volume 27, issue 4
01 Apr 2009
 | 01 Apr 2009

On the feasibility of a negative polarity electric sail

P. Janhunen

Abstract. An electric solar wind sail is a recently introduced propellantless space propulsion method whose technical development has also started. In its original version, the electric sail consists of a set of long, thin, centrifugally stretched and conducting tethers which are charged positively and kept in a high positive potential of 20 kV by an onboard electron gun. The positively charged tethers deflect solar wind protons, thus tapping momentum from the solar wind stream and producing thrust. Here we consider a variant of the idea with negatively charged tethers. The negative polarity electric sail seems to be more complex to implement than the positive polarity variant since it needs an ion gun instead of an electron gun as well as a more complex tether structure to keep the electron field emission current in check with the tether surface. However, since this first study of the negative polarity electric sail does not reveal any fundamental issues, more detailed studies would be warranted.