A solar sail making use of the physics of diffracted light enables the transfer of optical to mechanical momentum for in-space propulsion. In this thesis we describe advantages of diffractive solar sailing for trajectory and attitude control. In particular, a high inclination angle heliophysics mission is examined. A simple roll maneuver of a diffractive sail is described to attain an inclination angle of 60º. A comparison of idealized diffractive and reflective sails for a five-year solar polar orbiter mission, showing higher inclination angles and a smaller orbital radius for the former is performed. As a result, a constellation of diffractive solar sails for heliophysics imaging and data gathering can be envisioned. A series of 14 [kg], 400 [m2] lightsails at various inclination angles could be in place at 0.32 [AU] within six years of launch. Based on our survey of current solar sailing and attitude control systems, the feasibility of performing these maneuvers and the advantages diffractive elements can enable are explored. A theoretical model of the sailcraft is derived and various attitude control systems are numerically modeled. This analysis includes classical control devices such as reaction wheels and novel approaches with electro-optically controlled devices. It is concluded that while a fully electro-optic system is sufficient in the long term, a hybrid system of both small reaction wheels and electrically controlled diffractive elements provides an advantageous solution and could be expanded for other solar sailing applications in the near future.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Solar sails--Design and construction; Diffraction; Orbiting solar observatories; Sun--Observations--Equipment and supplies

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Mechanical Engineering (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

Mechanical Engineering (KGCOE)


Grover Swartzlander

Advisor/Committee Member

Mihail Barbosu

Advisor/Committee Member

Agamemnon Crassidis


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes