Revisiting Vinti theory : generalized equinoctial elements and applications to spacecraft relative motion
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Early phases of complex astrodynamics applications often require broad searches of large solution spaces. For these studies, mission complexity generally motivates the use of the coarsest dynamical models with analytical solutions because of the implied lightening of the computational load. In this context, two-body dynamics are typically employed in practice, but higher-fidelity models with analytical solutions exist, an attractive prospect for modern applications that may require or benefit from greater accuracy. Vinti theory, which prescribes one of the many alternative described models known as intermediaries, is revisited because it leads to a direct generalization of two-body dynamics, naturally incorporating the dominant effect of oblateness and optionally the top/bottom-heavy characteristic of a celestial body without recourse to perturbation methods. Prior to the innovations introduced in this dissertation, Vinti theory and associated solutions possessed many singularities in popular orbital regimes. The theory has received limited use. The goals of this dissertation are to assess Vinti theory's effectiveness in a modern application and remove its long-standing disincentives. These objectives inform the two main contributions, respectively: 1) Vinti theory is applied to the relative motion problem through the development of a state transition matrix (STM), enabled by improvements to the existing theory; 2) a new nonsingular element set is introduced. The relative motion application leverages Vinti's approximate analytical solution with J₃. An analytical relative motion model is derived and subsequently reformulated so that Vinti's solution is piecewise differentiable, developed alongside boosts in accuracy and removal of singularities in polar and nearly circular or equatorial orbits. Some of these singularities reside in the solution, others in the partials. Solving the problem in oblate spheroidal elements leads to large linear regions of validity. The new STM is compared with side-by-side simulations of a benchmark STM obtained from perturbation methods and is shown to offer improved accuracy over a broad design space. To defray the costs of software development, robust code is provided online. The second major thrust area is the introduction of a nonsingular element set that is at once novel and familiar. Vinti theory suffers from other well-known singularities, strictly artifacts of classical elements that are detrimental to many applications. To mitigate these singularities, the standard (spherical) equinoctial elements are chosen to inform in a natural way their generalization to a new nonsingular element set: the oblate spheroidal equinoctial orbital elements. The new elements are derived without J₃ and concise algorithms presented for common coordinate transformations. The transformations are valid away from the nearly rectilinear orbital regime and are exact except near the poles. When near the poles, the transformations match the accuracy of the approximate analytical solution. As a result, the singularity on the poles is completely eliminated for the first time. Analytical state propagation of the new elements in time for bounded orbits completes their formal introduction. Benefits of the new elements are identified. The dissertation is organized as follows. To convey Vinti theory's broader context, extensive background on intermediaries and related topics is provided in Chapter 1. General enhancements that grew out of the main efforts, including the removal of some singularities, are consolidated in Chapter 2 along with mathematical preliminaries. Relative motion is explored as the selected application in Chapter 3 and the major deficiencies of Vinti theory are removed in Chapter 4 with the introduction of the new element set. Analytical orbit propagation in the new set is developed in Chapter 5.