Mission design concepts for repeat groundtrack orbits and application to the ICESat mission
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The primary objective of the NASA sponsored ICESat mission is to study the short and long term changes in the ice mass in the Greenland and Antarctica regions. The satellite was therefore placed into a frozen near-polar near-circular repeat groundtrack to ensure an adequate coverage of the polar regions while keeping the groundtrack periodic and reducing the variations in the orbital elements, and more specifically the semi-major axis of the ICESat orbit. After launch, a contingency plan had to be devised to compensate for a laser that dangerously compromised the lifetime of the ICESat mission. This new plan makes an intensive use of the ICESat subcycles, a characteristic of the repeat groundtrack orbits often over-looked. The subcycle of a repeat groundtrack orbit provide global coverage within a time shorter than the groundtrack repetition period. For a satellite with an off-nadir pointing capacity, the subcycles provide near-repeat tracks which represents added opportunity for altimetry measurement over a specific track. The ICESat subcycles were also used in a very innovative fashion to reposition the satellite within its repeat cycle via orbital maneuvers called phasing maneuver. The necessary theoretical framework is provided for the subcycle analysis and the implementation of phasing maneuvers for any future repeat orbit mission. In the perspective of performing cross-validation of missions like CryoSat using the ICESat off-nadir capacity, a study was conducted to determine the geolocations of crossovers between two different repeat groundtrack Keplerian orbits. The general analytical solution was applied to ICESat vs. several other repeat groundtrack orbit mission, including the future ICESat-II mission. ICESat’s repeat groundtrack orbit was designed using a disturbing force model that includes only the Earth geopotential. Though the third body effect from the Sun and the Moon was neglected in the orbit design, it does in fact disrupt the repeatability condition of the groundtrack and consequently implies orbit correction maneuvers. The perturbations on ICESat orbit due to the third body effect are studied as a preliminary work towards including these forces in the design of the future ICESat-II repeat groundtrack orbit.