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


Low-thrust interplanetary spacecraft trajectory optimization poses a uniquely difficult problem to solve because of the inherent nonlinearities of the dynamics and constraints as well as the large size of the search space of possible solutions. Tools currently exist that optimize low-thrust interplanetary trajectories, but these tools are rarely openly available to the public, and when they are available they require multiple interfaces between multiple different packages. The goal of this work is to present a new piece of low-thrust interplanetary spacecraft trajectory optimization software that is open-source and entirely self-contained so that more people can have access to the ability to design interplanetary trajectories.

To achieve this goal, a gradient-descent based nonlinear programming method, called the interior point method, was used. The nonlinear programming method was chosen so that results from this work could be compared and contrasted with results from Spacecraft Trajectory Optimization Suite (STOpS), which uses heuristics to iterate towards a solution. Interior point methods are popular because of their ability to handle large amounts of equality and inequality constraints, which is a characteristic that is valuable for low-thrust interplanetary spacecraft trajectories. The software developed, Interior Point Optimizer (IP Optimizer), was then validated against test cases with known solutions to ensure that the software delivered the intended results. Lastly, a constraint satisfaction, a minimum-time, and a maximum-final-mass optimization problem were solved and compared with literature to illustrate the advantages of IP Optimizer and the methods it employs.

For the constraint satisfaction problem, IP Optimizer was able to find a solution that exactly satisfied the desired terminal constraints whereas STOpS had an error of 2.29 percent. In this case, IP Optimizer had a reduced runtime of 15 percent compared to STOpS as well. When minimizing time for a spacecraft transfer, IP Optimizer improved upon the solution found by STOpS by 5.3 percent. The speed of convergence for IP Optimizer was almost twice as fast as STOpS for this case. These results show that IP Optimizer is faster than STOpS at converging on a solution and the solution it converges to has a better objective value and more accurately satisfies the terminal constraints than STOpS. Lastly, the maximum-final-mass problem resulted in an objective value that was only 0.5 percent lower than the value found in literature.