Transfers and orbital maintenance of spatial retrograde orbits for Phobos exploration

Nishanth Pushparaj, Nicola Baresi, Yasuhiro Kawakatsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Quasi-satellite orbits (QSOs) are stable retrograde orbits in the restricted three-body problem that have gained attention as a viable candidate for future deep-space missions towards remote planetary satellites. JAXA's robotic sample return mission MMX will utilize QSOs to perform scientific observations of the Martian moon Phobos before landing on its surface and attempt sample retrieval. The complex dynamical environment around Phobos makes the proximity operations of MMX quite challenging and requires novel and sophisticated techniques for maintaining and transferring between different quasi-satellite orbits. The present paper explores the application of invariant manifolds of unstable retrograde orbits to design transfer trajectories around Phobos. Starting from the equations of the Circular Hill Problem with ellipsoidal Phobos, we first compute families of three-dimensional QSOs using out-of-plane bifurcations near planar orbits. The feasibility of using unstable family members as staging orbits between high-altitude and low-altitude QSOs is later assessed. The final candidates are ranked based on MMX scientific requirements, transfer analyses, and station-keeping costs. It is found that intermediate 3D-QSOs can be maintained with as little as 1m/s per month. Furthermore, it is discovered that transfer from high-altitude QSOs to low-altitude QSOs can be executed with a total ΔV of less than 40m/s and total time of flight of less than 5 days.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-464
Number of pages13
JournalActa Astronautica
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering


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