The solar wind electric sail is a novel propellantless space propulsion concept. According to numerical estimates, the electric sail can produce a large total impulse per propulsion system mass. Here we consider using a 0.5 Newton electric sail for boosting a 550 kg spacecraft to Uranus in less than 6 years. The spacecraft is a stack consisting of the electric sail module which is jettisoned at Saturn distance, a carrier module and a probe for Uranus atmospheric entry. The carrier module has a chemical propulsion ability for orbital corrections and it uses its antenna for picking up the probe’s data transmission and later relaying it to Earth. The scientific output of the mission is similar to what the Galileo Probe did at Jupiter. Measurement of the chemical and isotope composition of the Uranian atmosphere can give key constraints for different formation theories of the solar system. A similar method could also be applied to other giant planets and Titan by using a fleet of more or less identical electric sail equipped probes.
Centauri Dreams has coverage They note we would learn much about flying and navigating an electric sail during the testing and implementation of the Uranus mission.
A demonstrator electric sail mission, then, is designed to keep costs down and reach its destination as fast as possible, with the interesting spin that, because we’re in need of no gravitational assists, the Uranus probe will have no launch window constraints. As defined in the paper on this work, the probe would consist of three modules stacked together: The electric sail module, a carrier module and an entry module. The entry module would be composed of the atmospheric probe and a heat-shield.
The probe would get up to a speed of 100 kilometers per second which is about six times faster than Voyager 1.