Spacecraft landing on small bodies pass through regions where conventional gravitation formulations using exterior spherical harmonics are inaccurate. An investigation shows that a formulation using interior solid spherical harmonics might be satisfactory. Interior spherical harmonic expansions are usable inside an imaginary, empty sphere. For this application, such a sphere could be positioned in empty space above the intended landing site and rotating with the body. When the spacecraft is inside this sphere, the interior harmonic expansion would be used instead of the conventional, exterior harmonic expansion.

Coefficients can be determined by a least-squares fit to gravitation measurements synthesized from conventional formulations. Due to their unfamiliarity, recurrences for interior, as well as exterior, expansions are derived. Hotine’s technique for partial derivatives of exterior spherical harmonics is extended to interior harmonics.

This work was done by Robert A. Werner of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, download the Technical Support Package (free white paper) at  under the Information Sciences category. NPO-46697

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Evaluating Descent and Ascent Trajectories Near Non-Spherical Bodies

(reference NPO-46697) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the November, 2010 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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