An exoplanet direct imaging mission using an external occulter for starlight suppression could potentially achieve higher contrasts and throughputs than an equivalently sized telescope with an internal coronagraph. We consider a formation flying mission where the starshade must station-keep with a telescope, assumed to be on a halo orbit about the Sun-Earth L2 point, during observations and slew between observations as the telescope re-orients to target the next star. We use a parameterization of the slew fuel cost calculation based on interpolation of exact solutions of boundary value problem in the circular restricted three body formalism. Time constraints are imposed based on when stars are observable due to the motion of bright sources in the solar system, integration times, and mission lifetime constraints. Finally, we present a comprehensive cost function incorporating star completeness values as a reward heuristic and retargeting fuel costs to sequentially select the next best star to observe. Ensembles of simulations are conducted for different selection schemes; for a 3 year mission, taking two steps of the linear cost function produces the most unique detections with an average of 7.08± 2.55.
The zodiacal light caused by interplanetary dust grains is the second-most luminous source in the solar system. The dust grains coalesce into structures reminiscent of early solar system formation; their composition has been predicted through simulations and some edge-on observations but better data is required to validate them. Scattered light from these dust grains presents challenges to exoplanet imaging missions: resolution of their stellar environment is hindered by exozodiacal emissions and therefore sets the size and scope of these imaging missions. Understanding the composition of this interplanetary dust in our solar system requires an imaging mission from a vantage point above the ecliptic plane. The high surface brightness of the zodiacal light requires only a small aperture with moderate sensitivity; therefore a 3cm camera is enough to meet the science goals of the mission at an orbital height of 0.1AU above the ecliptic. A 6U CubeSat is the target mass for this mission which will be a secondary payload detaching from an existing interplanetary mission. Planetary flybys are utilized to produce most of the plane change Δv; deep space corrective maneuvers are implemented to optimize each planetary flyby. We developed an algorithm which determines the minimum Δv required to place the CubeSat on a transfer orbit to a planet’s sphere of influence and maximizes the resultant orbital height with respect to the ecliptic plane. The satellite could reach an orbital height of 0.22 AU with an Earth gravity assist in late 2024 by boarding the Europa Clipper mission.
The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s will perform exoplanet science via both direct imaging and a microlensing survey. An internal coronagraph is planned to perform starlight suppression for exoplanet imaging, but an external starshade could be used to achieve the required high contrasts with potentially higher throughput. This approach would require a separately-launched occulter spacecraft to be positioned at exact distances from the telescope along the line of sight to a target star system. We present a detailed study to quantify the Δv requirements and feasibility of deploying this additional spacecraft as a means of exoplanet imaging. The primary focus of this study is the fuel use of the occulter while repositioning between targets. Based on its design, the occulter is given an offset distance from the nominal WFIRST halo orbit. Target star systems and look vectors are generated using Exoplanet Open-Source Imaging Simulator (EXOSIMS); a boundary value problem is then solved between successive targets. On average, 50 observations are achievable with randomly selected targets given a 30-day transfer time. Individual trajectories can be optimized for transfer time as well as fuel usage to be used in mission scheduling. Minimizing transfer time reduces the total mission time by up to 4.5 times in some simulations before expending the entire fuel budget. Minimizing Δv can generate starshade missions that achieve over 100 unique observations within the designated mission lifetime of WFIRST.