Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


College of Engineering


Kira Abercromby

Advisor Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


This paper is predicated on determining the effectiveness of angles-only initial orbit determination (IOD) methods when limited observational data is available for low-Earth orbit (LEO) rocket body debris. The analysis will be conducted with data obtained from Lockheed Martin Space’s Space Object Tracking (SpOT) facility, focusing on their observational data from 2018 that contains tracking of rocket body debris for less than one minute per overhead pass. After the IOD accuracies are better understood, a feasibility study will follow that investigates the possibility of cataloguing LEO orbital debris from a single optical observation facility with similar observational capabilities as that of the SpOT facility.

The IOD accuracy analysis will investigate nine different rocket bodies, with a total of 50 orbital passes of data included in the research. Three main IOD approaches will be tested for each data set to determine the best method in achieving high levels of IOD accuracy: a traditional three-point method, an iterative method, and an assumed-circular orbit method. Application of the iterative approach results in increased accuracy for the resultant initial orbit determination as compared to the three-point IOD method, and an assumed-circular orbit assumption allows for a further increase in accuracy, especially for observed objects in near-circular orbits. The feasibility of cataloguing debris from a singular optical facility shows promise, as subsequent target acquisition after an object’s initial observation is determined to be achievable under the correct circumstances. By choosing a correct telescope pointing angle based on the IOD results from one pass of data, an observed rocket body debris object would pass through the field of view of SpOT’s spotter scope (0.7-degrees) during its next overhead pass for two different test cases. An increase field of view would increase both the likelihood of acquiring the target object and the amount of time the object is visible by the telescope.

Included in

Astrodynamics Commons