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A 2-D Trajectory Design Algorithm for Multiple Asteroid Flyby Missions

Abstract

Asteroid mining is one of the most promising private space ventures of the near future. Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs), i.e. those with perihelion at less than 1.3 AU from the Sun, are among the best candidates for such venture. In preparation of mining expeditions, it is likely that prospector missions will be carried out well in advance so to assess the accessibility, potential for revenues and possible critical issues of target asteroids. This work is concerned with the problem of the feasibility of a single spacecraft prospector mission capable of visiting as many NEAs as possible in one shot, focusing on Apollo-class asteroids only. The search of possible trajectories is done assuming a chemically propelled spacecraft with realistic specific impulse and propellant mass ratio, so to allow for a credible mission design with a reasonable, cost-effective total duration. In order to restrict the number of possible trajectories, only those that lie in the plane of the ecliptic are examined; such trajectories can be reached from the Earth without expensive plane change maneuvers. The search for a maximum number of encounters is thus restricted to those occurring where the asteroid orbit crosses the ecliptic. A deterministic building blocks approach is adopted, dividing the optimization problem in two parts: a local optimization for possible target determination; and a global optimization for the choice of the overall trajectory. It is found that the combined approach leads to the identification of viable trajectories, able to perform a number of encounters that depends on the launch epoch; as an example, in one test case two different sets of 21 NEA’s each were identified that could be reached with a single launch, with a slightly different propellant expenditure. It is concluded that the method is well suited to perform feasibility studies of NEA missions with good accuracy and moderate computational cost.

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Correspondence to Giuseppe Cataldi.

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Cataldi, G., Marcuccio, S. A 2-D Trajectory Design Algorithm for Multiple Asteroid Flyby Missions. Aerotec. Missili Spaz. 99, 287–295 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42496-020-00067-x

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Keywords

  • Asteroid mining
  • Asteroid prospector
  • Asteroid flyby