Preliminary design of debris removal missions by means of simplified models for low-thrust, many-revolution transfers

Federico Zuiani, Massimiliano Vasile

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47 Citations (Scopus)
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This paper presents a novel approach for the preliminary design of Low-Thrust (LT), many-revolution transfers. The main feature of the novel approach is a considerable reduction in the control parameters and a consequent gain in computational speed. Each spiral is built by using a predefined pattern for thrust direction and switching structure. The pattern is then optimised to minimise propellant consumption and transfer time. The variation of the orbital elements due to the propulsive thrust is computed analytically from a first-order solution of the perturbed Keplerian motion. The proposed approach allows for a realistic estimation of ΔV cost and time of flight required to transfer a spacecraft between two arbitrary orbits. Eccentricity and plane changes are both taken into account. The novel approach is applied here to the design of missions for the removal of
space debris by means of an Ion Beam Shepherd (IBS) Spacecraft. In particular, two slightly different variants of the proposed low-thrust control model are used for the two main phases of the debris removal mission, i.e. the rendezvous with the target object and its removal. Thanks to their relatively low computational cost they can be included in a multiobjective optimisation problem in which the sequence and timing of the removal of five hypothetical pieces of debris are optimised in order to minimise both propellant consumption and mission duration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)836250
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Aerospace Engineering
Early online date13 Feb 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • space debris removel missions
  • low-thrust transfers
  • multi-objective optimization


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