Date of Award

6-2016

Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering

Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor

Jordi Puig-Suari

Abstract

Due to mass and volume constraints on planetary missions, the development of control techniques that do not require fuel are of big interest. For those planets that have a dense enough atmosphere, aerodynamic drag can play an important role. The use of atmospheric differential drag for formation keeping was first proposed by Carolina L. Leonard in 1986, and has been proven to work in Earth atmosphere by many missions. Moreover, atmospheric drag has been used in the Mars atmosphere as aerobraking technique to decelerate landing vehicles, and to circularize the orbit of the spacecraft. Still, no literature was available related to formation flying on Mars.

To analyze the use of differential drag on the Mars atmosphere, the researcher accessed the two high resolution models available: NASA’s Mars-GRAM and ESA’s Mars Climate Database. These models allowed the simulation of conditions that a spacecraft would experience while in orbit around the planet. To explore the feasibility, the researcher first conducted a study where Mars atmosphere density was compared to Earth atmosphere, determining its applicability. Then, a simulation using MATLAB® was conducted, using a Keplerian two-body problem including the effects of Mars zonal harmonics (i.e. J2) and drag perturbations. Two 6U CubeSat were used in the simulation with deployable drag plates of different sizes, giving the possibility of having five differential drag scenarios as means of formation control.

The conclusions showed that, although with some limitations, the use of differential drag as means of autonomous formation flying and proximity operations control is feasible using proven techniques previously validated in Low Earth Orbit. Lyapunov control was selected as the control strategy, where three different methods were evaluated and compared.

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