Feasibility of quasi-frozen, near-polar and extremely low-altitude lunar orbits

Sandeep Kumar Singh, Robyn Woollands, Ehsan Taheri, John Junkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Designing long-duration lunar orbiter missions is challenging due to the Moon's highly nonlinear gravity field and the third-body perturbations induced by the Earth, Sun and other large bodies. The absence of a Lunar atmosphere has offered the possibility for mission designers to search for extremely low-altitude, quasi-stable lunar orbits. In addition to the reduced amount of propellant required for station-keeping maneuvers, these orbits present great opportunities for unique scientific studies such as high resolution imaging and characterization of the polar ice deposits in deep craters. Prior to the GRAIL mission, mission planning for Lunar orbiters had suffered from inaccuracies, mainly due to the lack of an accurate Lunar gravity model, which resulted in severe deviations with respect to the spacecraft's nominal orbit. We study station-keeping feasibility for spacecraft in near-polar and extremely low-altitude, quasi-frozen orbits around the Moon, that are perturbed by a high-fidelity lunar gravity model and third-body effects from the Earth and Sun. For several candidate orbits, we compare the trade-space between mission duration and ΔV budget, considering impulsive maneuvers applied once every ‘N∈{2,6,10,14,18}’ orbits at periselene or aposelene. Additionally, we investigate the propulsive cost for different orbit insertion dates, the location of impulsive corrections for arresting argument of periselene (ω) drift, and controlling periselene altitude.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)450-468
Number of pages19
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Impulsive-corrections
  • Low-altitude
  • Lunar orbits
  • Polar orbits
  • Quasi-frozen
  • Station-keeping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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