Efficient computation of optimal low thrust gravity perturbed orbit transfers

Robyn Woollands, Ehsan Taheri, John L. Junkins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


We have developed a new method for solving low-thrust fuel-optimal orbit transfer problems in the vicinity of a large body (planet or asteroid), considering a high-fidelity spherical harmonic gravity model. The algorithm is formulated via the indirect optimization method, leading to a two-point boundary value problem (TPBVP). We make use of a hyperbolic tangent smoothing law for performing continuation on the thrust magnitude to reduce the sharpness of the control switches in early iterations and thus promote convergence. The TPBVP is solved using the method of particular solutions (MPS) shooting method and Picard-Chebyshev numerical integration. Application of Picard-Chebyshev integration affords an avenue for increased efficiency that is not available with step-by-step integrators. We demonstrate that computing the particular solutions with only a low-fidelity force model greatly increases the efficiency of the algorithm while ultimately achieving near machine precision accuracy. A salient feature of the MPS is that it is parallelizable, and thus further speedups are available. It is also shown that, for near-Earth orbits and over a small number of en-route revolutions around the Earth, only the zonal perturbation terms are required in the costate equations to obtain a solution that is accurate to machine precision and optimal to engineering precision. The proposed framework can be used for trajectory design around small asteroids and also for orbit debris rendezvous and removal tasks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpaceflight Mechanics 2019
EditorsFrancesco Topputo, Andrew J. Sinclair, Matthew P. Wilkins, Renato Zanetti
PublisherUnivelt Inc.
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)9780877036593
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes
Event29th AAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, 2019 - Maui, United States
Duration: Jan 13 2019Jan 17 2019

Publication series

NameAdvances in the Astronautical Sciences
ISSN (Print)0065-3438


Conference29th AAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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