A critical evaluation of modern low-thrust, feedback-driven spacecraft control laws
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Low-thrust spacecraft trajectory optimization is often a difficult and time-consuming process. One alternative is to instead use a closed-loop, feedback-driven control law, which calculates the control using knowledge of only the current state and target state, and does not require the solution of a nonlinear optimization problem or system of nonlinear equations. Though generally suboptimal, such control laws are attractive because of the ease and speed with which they may be implemented and used to calculate feasible low-thrust maneuvers. This thesis presents the theoretical foundations for seven modern low-thrust control laws based on control law "blending" and Lyapunov control theory for a particle spacecraft operating in an inverse-square gravitational field. The control laws are evaluated critically to determine those that present the best combinations of thoroughness of method and minimization of user input required. The three control laws judged to exhibit the most favorable characteristics are then compared quantitatively through three numerical simulations. The simulations demonstrate the effectiveness of feedback-driven control laws, but also reveal several situations in which the control laws may perform poorly or break down altogether due to either theoretical shortcomings or numerical difficulties. The causes and effects of these issues are explained, and methods of handling them are proposed, implemented, and evaluated. Various opportunities for further work in the area are also described.