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


Spacecraft trajectory optimization is a near-infinite problem space with a wide variety of models and optimizers. As trajectory complexity increases, so too must the capabilities of modern optimizers. Common objective cost functions for these optimizers include the propellant utilized by the spacecraft and the time the spacecraft spends in flight. One effective method of minimizing these costs is the utilization of one or multiple gravity assists. Due to the phenomenon known as the Oberth effect, fuel burned at a high velocity results in a larger change in orbital energy than fuel burned at a low velocity. Since a spacecraft is flying fastest at the periapsis of its orbit, application of impulsive thrust at this closest approach is demonstrably capable of generating a greater change in orbital energy than at any other location in a trajectory. Harnessing this extra energy in order to lower relevant cost functions requires the modeling of these “powered flybys” or “powered gravity assists” (PGAs) within an interplanetary trajectory optimizer. This paper will discuss the use and modification of the Spacecraft Trajectory Optimization Suite, an optimizer built on evolutionary algorithms and the island model paradigm from the Parallel Global Multi-Objective Optimizer (PaGMO). This variant of STOpS enhances the STOpS library of tools with the capability of modeling and optimizing single and multiple powered gravity assist trajectories. Due to its functionality as a tool to optimize powered flybys, this variant of STOpS is named the Spacecraft Trajectory Optimization Suite - Flybys with Impulsive Thrust Engines (STOpS-FLITE). In three test scenarios, the PGA algorithm was able to converge to comparable or superior solutions to the unpowered gravity assist (uPGA) modeling used in previous STOpS versions, while providing extra options of trades between time of flight and propellant burned. Further, the PGA algorithm was able to find trajectories utilizing a PGA where uPGA trajectories were impossible due to limitations on time of flight and flyby altitude. Finally, STOpS-FLITE was able to converge to a uPGA trajectory when it was the most optimal solution, suggesting the algorithm does include and properly considers the uPGA case within its search space.

Included in

Astrodynamics Commons