Graveyard orbits for future Mars missions

Kapish Aggarwal*, Ron Noomen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Mars is expected to become a focal point of exploration (human and robotic) in the coming century, with a very likely need for a robust space infrastructure. Be it communication and navigation satellite constellations or scientific missions in low Mars orbits (LMO) and Areosynchronous orbits (ASO), every individual satellite will have a definitive period of operation after which it becomes derelict. At the end-of-life (EOL) the satellite shall be proactively dealt with in a sustainable manner to protect our access to the space environment of Mars and opportunities to use this. Clearly, impacting Mars or escaping Mars’ gravity are no viable options. This paper aims at identifying graveyard orbit solutions in circummartian space for future Mars space debris. Orbital stability for a period of 200 years is studied for Martian orbits using the symplectic integration technique. Extensive validations are performed and propagation and integration settings are tuned to suit a variety of configurations. A plethora of candidate graveyard orbit solutions are found and presented for orbits in the ASO and LMO regimes. For example, it is found that transferring an ASO satellite to 400 km below the nominal orbit altitude would ensure a stability margin of ±25 km for at least 200 years. Multiple orbital geometry characteristics (combinations of semi-major axis, inclination, right ascension of ascending node), satellite geometries (various values of area-to-mass ratio) and uncertainties are studied to produce a comprehensive analysis of long-term stability of potential graveyard orbits around Mars, making them attractive for such purposes. The protected zones are found to be safe from debris even for an uncertainty in initial eccentricity of 0.01 and variations in cross-sectional area due to uncontrolled tumbling. The overall objective of this paper is to make designers of future missions to Mars aware of the EOL aspects and include this in their mission design proposals at an early stage already.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2901-2916
Number of pages16
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Volume72
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Keywords

  • End-of-life
  • Graveyard orbits
  • Long-term stability
  • Mars
  • Space debris

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