Automatic trajectory planning for low-thrust active removal mission in Low-Earth Orbit

Marilena Di Carlo, Juan Manuel Romero Martin, Massimiliano Vasile

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)
72 Downloads (Pure)


In this paper two strategies are proposed to de-orbit up to 10 non-cooperative objects per year from the region within 800 and 1400 km altitude in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The underlying idea is to use a single servicing spacecraft to de-orbit several objects applying two different approaches. The first strategy is analogous to the Traveling Salesman Problem: the servicing spacecraft rendezvous with multiple objects in order to physically attach a de-orbiting kit that reduces the perigee of the orbit. The second strategy is analogous to the Vehicle Routing Problem: the servicing spacecraft rendezvous and docks with an object, spirals it down to a lower altitude orbit, undocks, and then spirals up to the next target.

In order to maximise the number of de-orbited objects with minimum propellant consumption, an optimal sequence of targets is identified using a bio-inspired incremental automatic planning and scheduling discrete optimisation algorithm. The optimisation of the resulting sequence is realised using a direct transcription method based on an asymptotic analytical solution of the perturbed Keplerian motion. The analytical model takes into account the perturbations deriving from the $J_2$ gravitational effect and the atmospheric drag.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1234-1258
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number5
Early online date19 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • active-debris removal
  • orbital debris
  • debris migration
  • automated trajectory design
  • automatic planning and scheduling
  • low-thrust transfers


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