2009

Spacecraft Station-Keeping Trajectory and Mission Design Tools

Two tools were developed for designing station-keeping trajectories and estimating delta-v requirements for designing missions to a small body such as a comet or asteroid. This innovation uses NPOPT, a non-sparse, general-purpose sequential quadratic programming (SQP) optimizer and the Two-Level Differential Corrector (T-LDC) in LTool (Libration point mission design Tool) to design three kinds of station-keeping scripts: vertical hovering, horizontal hovering, and orbiting.

The T-LDC is used to differentially correct several trajectory legs that join hovering points. In a vertical hovering, the maximum and minimum range points must be connected smoothly while maintaining the spacecraft’s range from a small body, all within the law of gravity and the solar radiation pressure. The same is true for a horizontal hover. A PatchPoint is an LTool class that denotes a space-time event with some extra information for differential correction, including a set of constraints to be satisfied by T-LDC. Given a set of PatchPoints, each with its own constraint, the T-LDC differentially corrects the entire trajectory by connecting each trajectory leg joined by PatchPoints while satisfying all specified constraints at the same time.

Vertical and horizontal hover both are needed to minimize delta-v spent for station keeping. A Python I/F to NPOPT has been written to be used from an LTool script. In vertical hovering, the spacecraft stays along the line joining the Sun and a small body. An instantaneous delta-v toward the anti-Sun direction is applied at the closest approach to the small body for station keeping. For example, the spacecraft hovers between the minimum range (2 km) point and the maximum range (2.5 km) point from the asteroid 1989ML. Horizontal hovering buys more time for a spacecraft to recover if, for any reason, a planned thrust fails, by returning almost to the initial position after some time later via a near elliptical orbit around the small body. The mapping or staging orbit may be similarly generated using T-LDC with a set of constraints. Some delta-v tables are generated for several different asteroid masses.

This work was done by Min-Kun J. Chung of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Karina Edmonds of the California Institute of Technology at (626) 395-2322. Refer to NPO-44452.