An extension to the SOAP software allows users to work with tri-axial ellip-soid-based representations of planetary bodies, primarily for working with small, natural satellites, asteroids, and comets. SOAP is a widely used tool for the visualization and analysis of space missions. The small body extension provides the same visualization and analysis constructs for use with small bodies. These constructs allow the user to characterize satellite path and instrument cover information for small bodies in both 3D display and numerical output formats.
Tri-axial ellipsoids are geometric shapes the diameters of which are different in each of three principal x, y, and z dimensions. This construct provides a better approximation than using spheres or oblate spheroids (ellipsoids comprising two common equatorial diameters as a distinct polar diameter). However, the tri-axial ellipsoid is considerably more difficult to work with from a modeling perspective. In addition, the SOAP small-body extensions allow the user to actually employ a plate model for highly irregular surfaces. Both tri-axial ellipsoids and plate models can be assigned to coordinate frames, thus allowing for the modeling of arbitrary changes to body orientation.
A variety of features have been extended to support tri-axial ellipsoids, including the computation and display of the spacecraft sub-orbital point, ground trace, instrument footprints, and swathes. Displays of 3D instrument volumes can be shown interacting with the ellipsoids. Longitude/latitude grids, contour plots, and texture maps can be displayed on the ellipsoids using a variety of projections. The distance along an arbitrary line of sight can be computed between the spacecraft and the ellipsoid, and the coordinates of that intersection can be plotted as a function of time. The small-body extension supports the same visual and analytical constructs that are supported for spheres and oblate spheroids in SOAP making the implementation of the more complex algorithms largely transparent to the user.
This work was done by Robert Carnright of Caltech and David Stodden and John Coggi of The Aerospace Corporation for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.