Optimal starting conditions for the rendezvous maneuver: Analytical and computational approach
Doctor of Philosophy
The three-dimensional rendezvous between two spacecraft is considered: a target spacecraft on a circular orbit around the Earth and a chaser spacecraft initially on some elliptical orbit yet to be determined. The chaser spacecraft has variable mass, limited thrust, and its trajectory is governed by three controls, one determining the thrust magnitude and two determining the thrust direction. We seek the time history of the controls in such a way that the propellant mass required to execute the rendezvous maneuver is minimized. Two cases are considered: (i) time-to-rendezvous free and (ii) time-to-rendezvous given, respectively equivalent to (i) free angular travel and (ii) fixed angular travel for the target spacecraft. The above problem has been studied by several authors under the assumption that the initial separation coordinates and the initial separation velocities are given, hence known initial conditions for the chaser spacecraft. In this paper, it is assumed that both the initial separation coordinates and initial separation velocities are free except for the requirement that the initial chaser-to-target distance is given so as to prevent the occurrence of trivial solutions. Two approaches are employed: optimal control formulation (Part A) and mathematical programming formulation (Part B). In Part A, analyses are performed with the multiple-subarc sequential gradient-restoration algorithm for optimal control problems. They show that the fuel-optimal trajectory is zero-bang, namely it is characterized by two subarcs: a long coasting zero-thrust subarc followed by a short powered max-thrust braking subarc. While the thrust direction of the powered subarc is continuously variable for the optimal trajectory, its replacement with a constant (yet optimized) thrust direction produces a very efficient guidance trajectory. Indeed, for all values of the initial distance, the fuel required by the guidance trajectory is within less than one percent of the fuel required by the optimal trajectory. For the guidance trajectory, because of the replacement of the variable thrust direction of the powered subarc with a constant thrust direction, the optimal control problem degenerates into a mathematical programming problem with a relatively small number of degrees of freedom, more precisely: three for case (i) time-to-rendezvous free and two for case (ii) time-to-rendezvous given. In particular, we consider the rendezvous between the Space Shuttle (chaser) and the International Space Station (target). Once a given initial distance SS-to-ISS is preselected, the present work supplies not only the best initial conditions for the rendezvous trajectory, but simultaneously the corresponding final conditions for the ascent trajectory. In Part B, an analytical solution of the Clohessy-Wiltshire equations is presented (i) neglecting the change of the spacecraft mass due to the fuel consumption and (ii) and assuming that the thrust is finite, that is, the trajectory includes powered subarcs flown with max thrust and coasting subarc flown with zero thrust. Then, employing the found analytical solution, we study the rendezvous problem under the assumption that the initial separation coordinates and initial separation velocities are free except for the requirement that the initial chaser-to-target distance is given. The main contribution of Part B is the development of analytical solutions for the powered subarcs, an important extension of the analytical solutions already available for the coasting subarcs. One consequence is that the entire optimal trajectory can be described analytically. Another consequence is that the optimal control problems degenerate into mathematical programming problems. A further consequence is that, vis-a-vis the optimal control formulation, the mathematical programming formulation reduces the CPU time by a factor of order 1000. Key words. Space trajectories, rendezvous, optimization, guidance, optimal control, calculus of variations, Mayer problems, Bolza problems, transformation techniques, multiple-subarc sequential gradient-restoration algorithm.