General perturbation method for satellite constellation reconfiguration using low-thrust maneuvers

McGrath, Ciara N. and Macdonald, Malcolm (2019) General perturbation method for satellite constellation reconfiguration using low-thrust maneuvers. Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, 42 (8). pp. 1676-1692. ISSN 1533-3884 (

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A general perturbation solution to a restricted low-thrust Lambert rendezvous problem, considering circular-to-circular in-plane maneuvers using tangential thrust and including a coast arc, is developed. This provides a fully analytical solution to the satellite reconnaissance problem. The solution requires no iteration. Its speed and simplicity allow problems involving numerous spacecraft and maneuvers to be studied; this is demonstrated through two case studies. In the first, a range of maneuvers providing a rapid flyover of Los Angeles is generated, giving an insight to the trade space and allowing the maneuver that best fulfills the mission to be selected. A reduction in flyover time from 13.8 to 1.6 days is possible using a less than 17 m∕s velocity change. A comparison with a numerical propagator including atmospheric friction and an 18th-order tesseral model shows 4 s of difference in the time of flyover. A second study considers a constellation of 24 satellites that can maneuver into repeating ground track orbits to provide persistent coverage of a region. A set of maneuvers for all satellites is generated for four sequential targets, allowing the most suitable maneuver strategy to be selected. Improvements in coverage of greater than 10 times are possible as compared to a static constellation using 35% of the propellant available across the constellation.