Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Bong Wie


Unmanned probes are the primary technologies used when exploring celestial bodies in our solar system. As these deep space exploration missions are becoming more and more complex, there is a need for advanced autonomous operation capabilities in order to meet mission objectives. These autonomous capabilities are required as ground-based guidance and navigation commands will not be able to be issued in real time due to the large distance from the Earth. For long-duration asteroid exploration missions, this also entails how to keep the spacecraft around or on the body in order for the mission to be successfully completed. Unlike with larger bodies such as planets, though, the dynamical environment around these smaller bodies can be difficult to characterize. The weak gravitational fields are not uniform due to irregular shapes and non-homogeneous mass distribution, especially when orbiting in close-proximity to the body. On top of that, small perturbation forces such as solar radiation pressure can be strong enough to destabilize an orbit around an asteroid.

The best solution for keeping a spacecraft in orbit about a small body is to implement some form of control technique. With conventional propulsion thrusters, active control algorithms tend to have a higher than acceptable propellant requirements for long-duration asteroid exploration missions, which has led to much research being devoted to finding open-loop solutions to long-term stable orbits about small bodies. These solutions can prove to be highly sensitive to the orbit's initial conditions, making them potentially unreliable in the presence of orbit injection errors. This research investigates a fuel-efficient, active control scheme to safely control a spacecraft's orbit in close-proximity to an asteroid. First, three different gravitational models capable of simulating the non-homogeneous gravity fields of asteroids are presented: the polyhedron gravity shape model, a spherical harmonics expansion, and an inertia dyadic gravity model. Then a simple feedback controller augmented by a disturbance-accommodating filter is employed to ensure orbital stability. Using these models and controller, several orbiting cases as well as body-frame hovering are investigated to test the viability and fuel-efficiency of the proposed control system. The ultimate goal is to design an active orbit control system with minimum ÄV expenditure.

Copyright Owner

Tim Winkler



File Format


File Size

57 pages