Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
A significant component of recent space exploration has been unmanned mission to comets
and asteroids. The increase in interest for these bodies necessitates an increase in demand
for higher fidelity trajectory simulations in order to assure mission success. Most available
methods for simulating trajectories about asymmetric bodies assume they are of uniform
density. This thesis examines a hybrid method that merges a mass concentration ("mascon")
model and a spherical harmonic model using the "Brillouin sphere" as the interface. This
joint model will be used for simulating trajectories about variable density bodies and, in
particular, contact binary asteroids and comets.
The scope of this thesis is confined to the analysis and characterization of the spherical
harmonic modeling method in which three bodies of increasing asymmetrical severity are
used as test cases: Earth, asteroid 101955 Bennu, and asteroid 25143 Itokawa. Since the
zonal harmonics are well defined for Earth, it is used as the initial baseline for the method.
Trajectories in the equatorial plane and inclined to this plane are simulated to analyze the
dynamical behavior of the environment around each of the three bodies. There are multiple
degrees of freedom in the spherical harmonic modeling method which are characterized as
follows: (1) The radius of the Brillouin sphere is varied as a function of the altitude of
the simulated orbit, (2) The truncation degree of the series is chosen based upon the error
incurred in the acceleration field on the chosen Brillouin sphere, and (3) The gravitational
potential and acceleration field are calculated using the determined radial location of the
Brillouin sphere and the truncation degree.
An ideal Brillouin sphere radius and truncation degree are able to be determined as a
function of a given orbit where the error in the acceleration field is locally minimized. The
dual-density model for a contact binary is found to more accurately describe the dynamical
environment around Asteroid 25143 Itokawa compared to the single density model.
Number of Pages
Wood, Stephanie, "Gravitational Potential Modeling of Near-Earth Contact Binaries" (2017). Graduate College Dissertations and Theses. 753.