Particle swarm optimization applied to impulsive orbital transfers

Mauro Pontani, Bruce A. Conway

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The particle swarm optimization (PSO) technique is a population-based stochastic method developed in recent years and successfully applied in several fields of research. It mimics the unpredictable motion of bird flocks while searching for food, with the intent of determining the optimal values of the unknown parameters of the problem under consideration. At the end of the process, the best particle (i.e. the best solution with reference to the objective function) is expected to contain the globally optimal values of the unknown parameters. The central idea underlying the method is contained in the formula for velocity updating. This formula includes three terms with stochastic weights. This research applies the particle swarm optimization algorithm to the problem of optimizing impulsive orbital transfers. More specifically, the following problems are considered and solved with the PSO algorithm: (i) determination of the globally optimal two- and three-impulse transfer trajectories between two coplanar circular orbits; (ii) determination of the optimal transfer between two coplanar, elliptic orbits with arbitrary orientation; (iii) determination of the optimal two-impulse transfer between two circular, non-coplanar orbits; (iv) determination of the globally optimal two-impulse transfer between two non-coplanar elliptic orbits. Despite its intuitiveness and simplicity, the particle swarm optimization method proves to be capable of effectively solving the orbital transfer problems of interest with great numerical accuracy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-155
Number of pages15
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - May 2012


  • Globally optimal orbital transfers
  • Heuristic optimization methods
  • Swarming theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering

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