Low-Earth Orbit trajectory optimization in the presence of atmospheric uncertainty




Brown, Aaron Jay

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The previous 20 to 25 years have seen a tremendous increase in space exploration, and with that an increase in the level of logistics planning needed to ensure mission success. For spacecraft that are designed to be periodically re-supplied, a key logistics consumable is propellant, as it constitutes the greatest up-mass on re-supply vehicles. A trajectory design strategy is therefore desired that minimizes propellant usage in order to ease the demand for propellant re-supply missions. This thesis develops such a strategy in three stages, and uses the International Space Station (ISS) as its testbed, as no other LEO spacecraft is more challenging from a space logistics standpoint. First, the ISS trajectory planning problem is formulated as a constrained burn optimization problem assuming a deterministic atmosphere. The cost function is total ∆v, with constraints imposed on longitude of ascending node (LAN) and semi-major axis (SMA) altitude. Analytic derivatives are constructed for both the cost and constraints, which are necessary given the 6-week to 2-year time frames being considered. A gradient-based optimizer is then utilized to find locally-optimal solutions to real-world ISS trajectory planning problems. Second, atmospheric uncertainty is addressed by constructing a probabilistic model of space weather data using Gaussian Processes (GPs). Bayesian inference is performed using the GP model to generate mean and covariance estimates for space weather predictions, whose pedigree is assessed against test data. The predictions are then mapped into atmospheric density via the analytic Jacchia-Roberts density model, and the effect of space weather uncertainty on orbital lifetime is examined. Third, an ISS burn execution uncertainty model is developed. This model, along with the space weather uncertainty model, are deployed in a linear covariance analysis to ascertain their combined effect on LAN and SMA altitude dispersions. The deterministic constraints from the original problem are re-formulated as stochastic constraints, where now the constraint uncertainty interval is required to fall within specified bounds. An updated optimization framework is constructed using the original ∆v cost function along with the stochastic constraints to solve the trajectory optimization problem under atmospheric uncertainty. Finally, the complete architecture is summarized for deployment in an operational setting.


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