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International Journal of Aerospace Engineering
Volume 2012, Article ID 836250, 22 pages
Research Article

Preliminary Design of Debris Removal Missions by Means of Simplified Models for Low-Thrust, Many-Revolution Transfers

1School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, James Watt South Building, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK
2Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, University of Strathclyde, 75 Montrose Street, Glasgow G1 1XJ, UK

Received 8 December 2011; Accepted 23 February 2012

Academic Editor: Alessandro A. Quarta

Copyright © 2012 Federico Zuiani and Massimiliano Vasile. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


This paper presents a novel approach for the preliminary design of Low-Thrust, many-revolution transfers. The main feature of the novel approach is a considerable reduction in the control parameters and a consequent gain in computational speed. Each spiral is built by using a predefined pattern for thrust direction and switching structure. The pattern is then optimised to minimise propellant consumption and transfer time. The variation of the orbital elements due to the thrust is computed analytically from a first-order solution of the perturbed Keplerian motion. The proposed approach allows for a realistic estimation of Δ V and time of flight required to transfer a spacecraft between two arbitrary orbits. Eccentricity and plane changes are both accounted for. The novel approach is applied here to the design of missions for the removal of space debris by means of an Ion Beam Shepherd Spacecraft. In particular, two slightly different variants of the proposed low-thrust control model are used for the different phases of the mission. Thanks to their low computational cost they can be included in a multiobjective optimisation problem in which the sequence and timing of the removal of five pieces of debris are optimised to minimise propellant consumption and mission duration.