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Asymptotic analysis of displaced lunar orbits

Simo, J. and McInnes, C.R. (2009) Asymptotic analysis of displaced lunar orbits. Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, 32 (5). pp. 1666-1671. ISSN 0731-5090

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The design of spacecraft trajectories is a crucial task in space mission design. Solar sail technology appears as a promising form of advanced spacecraft propulsion which can enable exciting new space science mission concepts such as solar system exploration and deep space observation. Although solar sailing has been considered as a practical means of spacecraft propulsion only relatively recently, the fundamental ideas are by no means new (see McInnes1 for a detailed description). A solar sail is propelled by reflecting solar photons and therefore can transform the momentum of the photons into a propulsive force. Solar sails can also be utilised for highly non-Keplerian orbits, such as orbits displaced high above the ecliptic plane (see Waters and McInnes2). Solar sails are especially suited for such non-Keplerian orbits, since they can apply a propulsive force continuously. In such trajectories, a sail can be used as a communication satellite for high latitudes. For example, the orbital plane of the sail can be displaced above the orbital plane of the Earth, so that the sail can stay fixed above the Earth at some distance, if the orbital periods are equal (see Forward3). Orbits around the collinear points of the Earth-Moon system are also of great interest because their unique positions are advantageous for several important applications in space mission design (see e.g. Szebehely4, Roy,5 Vonbun,6 Thurman et al.,7 Gomez et al.8, 9). Several authors have tried to determine more accurate approximations (quasi-Halo orbits) of such equilibrium orbits10. These orbits were first studied by Farquhar11, Farquhar and Kamel10, Breakwell and Brown12, Richardson13, Howell14, 15.If an orbit maintains visibility from Earth, a spacecraft on it (near the L2 point) can be used to provide communications between the equatorial regions of the Earth and the lunar poles. The establishment of a bridge for radio communications is crucial for forthcoming space missions, which plan to use the lunar poles.McInnes16 investigated a new family of displaced solar sail orbits near the Earth-Moon libration points.Displaced orbits have more recently been developed by Ozimek et al.17 using collocation methods. In Baoyin and McInnes18, 19, 20 and McInnes16, 21, the authors describe new orbits which are associated with artificial Lagrange points in the Earth-Sun system. These artificial equilibria have potential applications for future space physics and Earth observation missions. In McInnes and Simmons22, the authors investigate large new families of solar sail orbits, such as Sun-centered halo-type trajectories, with the sail executing a circular orbit of a chosen period above the ecliptic plane. We have recently investigated displaced periodic orbits at linear order in the Earth-Moon restricted three-body system, where the third massless body is a solar sail (see Simo and McInnes23). These highly non-Keplerian orbits are achieved using an extremely small sail acceleration. It was found that for a given displacement distance above/below the Earth-Moon plane it is easier by a factor of order 3.19 to do so at L4=L5 compared to L1=L2 - ie. for a fixed sail acceleration the displacement distance at L4=L5 is greater than that at L1=L2. In addition, displaced L4=L5 orbits are passively stable, making them more forgiving to sail pointing errors than highly unstable orbits at L1=L2.The drawback of the new family of orbits is the increased telecommunications path-length, particularly the Moon-L4 distance compared to the Moon-L2 distance.