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Unit Sphere-Constrained and Higher Order Interpolations in Laplace’s Method of Initial Orbit Determination


This paper explores an alternative interpolation approach for the line-of-sight measurements in Laplace’s method for angles-only initial orbit determination (IOD). The classical implementation of the method uses Lagrange polynomials to interpolate three or more unit line-of-sight (LOS) vectors from a ground-based or orbiting site to an orbiting target. However, such an approach does not guarantee unit magnitude of the interpolated line-of-sight path except at the measurement points. The violation of this constraint leads to unphysical behavior in the derivatives of the interpolated line-of-sight history, which can lead to poor initial orbit determination (IOD) performance. By adapting a spherical interpolation method used in the field of computer graphics, we can obtain an interpolated line-of-sight history that is always unit norm. This new spherical interpolation method often leads to significant performance improvements in Laplace’s IOD method, with comparable robustness to measurement noise as the traditional interpolation methods. This paper also demonstrates the benefit of interpolating through more than three data points, which is easily enabled up to an arbitrary number of measurements by recursive definitions of the interpolations.

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Correspondence to Ethan R. Burnett.

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Burnett, E.R., Sinclair, A.J. & Fisk, C.C. Unit Sphere-Constrained and Higher Order Interpolations in Laplace’s Method of Initial Orbit Determination. J of Astronaut Sci (2019).

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  • Orbit determination
  • Interpolation
  • Estimation
  • Space situational awareness