Low thrust propulsion in a coplanar circular restricted four body problem

Marta Ceccaroni, James Biggs

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This paper formulates a circular restricted four body problem (CRFBP), where the three primaries are set in the stable Lagrangian equilateral triangle configuration and the fourth body is massless. The analysis of this autonomous coplanar CRFBP is undertaken, which identies eight natural equilibria; four of which are close to the smaller body, two stable and two unstable, when considering the primaries to be the Sun and two smaller bodies of the solar system. Following this, the model incorporates `near term' low-thrust propulsion capabilities to generate surfaces of articial equilibrium points close to the smaller primary, both in and out of the plane containing the celestial bodies. A stability analysis of these points is carried out and a stable subset of them is identied. Throughout the analysis the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid-Spacecraft
system is used, for conceivable masses of a hypothetical asteroid set at the libration point L4. It is shown that eight bounded orbits exist, which can be maintained with a constant thrust less than 1:5 10􀀀4N for a 1000kg spacecraft. This illustrates that, by exploiting low-thrust technologies, it would be possible to maintain an observation point more than 66% closer to the asteroid than that of a stable natural equilibrium point. The analysis then focusses on a major Jupiter Trojan: the 624-Hektor asteroid. The thrust required to enable close asteroid observation is determined in the simplied CRFBP model. Finally, a numerical simulation of the real Sun-Jupiter-624
Hektor-Spacecraft is undertaken, which tests the validity of the stability analysis of the simplied model.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-219
JournalCelestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2012


  • restricted problems
  • stability
  • periodic orbits


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