Analytical methods for satellite constellation reconfiguration and reconnaissance using low-thrust manoeuvres

  • Ciara McGrath

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


A fully-analytical general perturbation solution to a restricted low-thrust circular to circular Lambert rendezvous problem with tangential thrust and an optional coast arc is developed. The solution requires no iteration and is solved rapidly to generate a full range of possible manoeuvres to achieve the desired goal. The speed of the solution allows for large-scale problems involving numerous spacecraft and manoeuvres to be studied; this is demonstrated by applying the method to a range of mission scenarios. In the first scenario, a full range of manoeuvres providing rapid flyover of Los Angelesis generated, giving an insight to the trade-space and allowing the manoeuvre that best fulfils the mission priorities to be selected. Using a CubeSat equipped with electro-spray propulsion, these manoeuvres can reduce the time to overight by more than 85%, for less than 20 m/s velocity change, when compared with a non-manoeuvring satellite. The second scenario considers a constellation of 24 satellites that can manoeuvre to provide targeted coverage of a region of the Earth as required. A full set of manoeuvres for all satellites is generated for four sequential targets, allowing the most suitable manoeuvre strategy to be selected; regional improvements in coverage of more than ten times are shown to be achievable when compared to a static constellation. Finally, deploying a constellation of spacecraft by using low-thrust manoeuvres to achieve the desired configuration is studied. Deploying a constellation of 24 satellites using this technique could reduce launch costs by 75% compared with traditional methods. These cases demonstrate the advantages that manoeuvrable satellites can provide, but it is the analytical general perturbation solution, which allows for rapid exploration of these complex problems, that is the key contribution of this work.
Date of Award19 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsEPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)
SupervisorMalcolm Macdonald (Supervisor) & Massimiliano Vasile (Supervisor)

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