Cislunar Aerocycler Basics

Technical Design Details

I’m going to break the concept description down into 3 main parts which I’ll illustrate here.

  • Moon aiming problem
  • Downwards lift to solve the aiming problem
  • Lunar redirect change of coordinates & energy gain
Slingshot, Banked Turn, New Direction, Repeat… sort of the idea
Not actually getting into complications of hypersonic lift here, this is just force balancing
Actually, the exit vector here should probably be even more horizontal

Technical Challenges Generating Lift

I would prefer to address this as a separate subject and I have a bit of an in-progress Medium series on that subject on its own. In short, hypersonic aerofoils can generate very substantial lift (although much lower than atmospheric planes), although this alone might be iffy for the hard 120 degree redirect in this scheme. On the other hand, I’m extremely optimistic about magnetic ion deflection as a means of generating extraordinarily high lift-to-drag ratios, making this design easily viable.

Variant with only Aerobraking?

Within cislunar space, lots of cycler designs are possible, and in the past, people have generally only considered fully ballistic trajectories. The problem comes down to matching the moon’s angle. The solution is to do something particular awkward in the lunar “backflip”.

The Aldrin design for Lunar Backflip cycler


One of the uses I have in mind is as a proving ground for applying aerogravity assist technologies for deeper space interplanetary missions, like Mars missions. The designs could be tested repeatedly on a sub-monthly time schedule before embarking on multi-year journeys with the designs.

Use as Energy Generators

This design could be combined with an Atmospheric Scoop, which is an idea that siphons off gases from the top of the atmosphere. Studies have consistently shown that the deal-breaker for that idea is the drag from the large solar panels necessary to accelerate a station-keeping ion stream out the back. Not so in this design, because the energy comes from tidal energy.

Speculative use as LEO Station Keeping

I am intensely intrigued by this concept as micro-satellites. The trajectory might be “dangerous” in a certain way with risks of the atmospheric flight going wrong, or missing the lunar rendezvous, and tiny drones would be ideal to carry out the maturation of this technology. But what other uses would micro-sats in these orbits have?



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Obligatory analytical writing, online participation account for Medium. Engineering, software, books, space, constant daydreaming.