Design space pruning heuristics and global optimization method for conceptual design of low-thrust asteroid tour missions
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Electric propulsion has recently become a viable technology for spacecraft, enabling shorter flight times, fewer required planetary gravity assists, larger payloads, and/or smaller launch vehicles. With the maturation of this technology, however, comes a new set of challenges in the area of trajectory design. Because low-thrust trajectory optimization has historically required long run-times and significant user-manipulation, mission design has relied on expert-based knowledge for selecting departure and arrival dates, times of flight, and/or target bodies and gravitational swing-bys. These choices are generally based on known configurations that have worked well in previous analyses or simply on trial and error. At the conceptual design level, however, the ability to explore the full extent of the design space is imperative to locating the best solutions in terms of mass and/or flight times. Beginning in 2005, the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition posed a series of difficult mission design problems, all requiring low-thrust propulsion and visiting one or more asteroids. These problems all had large ranges on the continuous variables - launch date, time of flight, and asteroid stay times (when applicable) - as well as being characterized by millions or even billions of possible asteroid sequences. Even with recent advances in low-thrust trajectory optimization, full enumeration of these problems was not possible within the stringent time limits of the competition. This investigation develops a systematic methodology for determining a broad suite of good solutions to the combinatorial, low-thrust, asteroid tour problem. The target application is for conceptual design, where broad exploration of the design space is critical, with the goal being to rapidly identify a reasonable number of promising solutions for future analysis. The proposed methodology has two steps. The first step applies a three-level heuristic sequence developed from the physics of the problem, which allows for efficient pruning of the design space. The second phase applies a global optimization scheme to locate a broad suite of good solutions to the reduced problem. The global optimization scheme developed combines a novel branch-and-bound algorithm with a genetic algorithm and an industry-standard low-thrust trajectory optimization program to solve for the following design variables: asteroid sequence, launch date, times of flight, and asteroid stay times. The methodology is developed based on a small sample problem, which is enumerated and solved so that all possible discretized solutions are known. The methodology is then validated by applying it to a larger intermediate sample problem, which also has a known solution. Next, the methodology is applied to several larger combinatorial asteroid rendezvous problems, using previously identified good solutions as validation benchmarks. These problems include the 2nd and 3rd Global Trajectory Optimization Competition problems. The methodology is shown to be capable of achieving a reduction in the number of asteroid sequences of 6-7 orders of magnitude, in terms of the number of sequences that require low-thrust optimization as compared to the number of sequences in the original problem. More than 70% of the previously known good solutions are identified, along with several new solutions that were not previously reported by any of the competitors. Overall, the methodology developed in this investigation provides an organized search technique for the low-thrust mission design of asteroid rendezvous problems.