I am working on a project for a lunar flyby using a CubeSat. I was wondering what kind of trajectory transfer options are present and which one would be best for a CubeSat? I'm aiming for a transfer from either 400km LEO or GTO to a 100km Low Lunar Orbit.


After doing some research on electric propulsion engines, I've finalised on using the MiXi thruster. I have been working on simulating this on GMAT, right now I am able to get a flyby at a very high altitude (3590 km) which is definitely not enough. Additionally, I have been trying to perform the flyby near Mare Tranquilititus. The GMAT tutorials do cover this problem, however, they're using a plugin called VF13ad, which I have not been able to figure out how to install and run on my PC.

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    $\begingroup$ Flyby or Orbit? starting from GTO should be easier. You'd probably be looking at a trajectory like that used for Chandrayaan-2 $\endgroup$ – user20636 Apr 2 '20 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ What's about communication to and from a cubesat over such a long distance from Earth to the Moon? Increasing communication distance by a factor of 1000 (from 400 to about 400000 km) is not easy. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 2 '20 at 11:08
  • $\begingroup$ What's about the neccessary fuel for lunar orbit insertion? Does it fit into the cubesat? Low lunar orbits may be instable due to lunar mascons. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Apr 2 '20 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Are you sticking with some absolute design limits for a "Cubesat," such as total fuel/thrust capability, or are you just using a generic term for a small satellite? $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Apr 2 '20 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @BruceVici If you have two accounts (new registered and old unregistered) and would like to merge them into one account, there is a standard process for that. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 28 '20 at 8:55

there's effectively none. Hypergolics are not allowed in cubesats, and delta-v req. LEO->LLO is 4 and 8 km/s (high-thrust low-thrust) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta-v_budget

So, spec it for moonlaunch rideshare, if possible.

You might want to have a look at Cornell university electrolysis solution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cislunar_Explorers https://cislunarexplorers.wordpress.com/

There's an excellent article of their cubesat configuration (and required lightweight astronav solution) on IEEE AESS magazine volume 34, number 9, september 2019: Contents: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=8826567 Purchase: https://resourcecenter.aess.ieee.org/publications/aess-electronic-magazine/AESSMAG0380.html

Interesting subject. Hope that you can find a solution that works for you.


  • $\begingroup$ Answers to Going from LEO to lunar using only low-thrust ion propulsion - can it be done? suggest that a 3U cubesat with a sizable fraction of its mass being say liquid krypton or xenon could do it, though that might be considered too much stored energy so maybe iodine or lithium? 1, 2, 3, 4 $\endgroup$ – uhoh Apr 5 '20 at 16:51
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but your linked question refers to SMART-1, which was launched to GTO. My point was that for a 3-6U cubesat, intended to have a meaningful mission payload, self-transfer from LEO to LLO is beyond capability of current ion systems. $\endgroup$ – Petri J.C. Flander Apr 5 '20 at 21:33

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