Technologies


Method for Establishing Heliocentric Spacecraft Formations Using Gravity Assist from a Natural Satellite

Reference#: P01771


Spacecraft are launched and deployed to various locations to serve a variety of different purposes. Different techniques can be used place these spacecraft in their desired orbits. One technique that can be used is a lunar fly-by maneuver.

The related art generally employs lunar flyby maneuvers and lunar gravity assist to establish geosynchronous orbits for satellites. This means that the satellites eventually orbit the earth after completing a lunar flyby maneuver. While these mission designs include a lunar flyby maneuver, none of these references disclose the concept of using lunar gravity assist to deploy a constellation of spacecraft about a celestial body different than the celestial body where the spacecraft originated.

A method for deploying a plurality of spacecraft in an orbit about different celestial body than the celestial body where the spacecraft originated is disclosed. The term "spacecraft" as used throughout the specification and claims refers to any moving vehicle that is capable of moving through space and can carry one or more of the following systems: power, propulsion, signaling and/or communications, and is powered by any form of energy. In some cases, the spacecraft can be a satellite.

In one aspect, the invention provides a method for deploying multiple spacecraft about a first celestial body comprising the steps of: storing a first spacecraft and a second spacecraft aboard a spaceship; launching the spaceship from a second celestial body different than the first celestial body; flying the spaceship to a third celestial body; separating the first spacecraft and the second spacecraft from the spaceship while the spaceship is traveling towards the third celestial body from the second celestial body; separating the first spacecraft from the second spacecraft while the spaceship is traveling towards the third celestial body from the second celestial body; establishing a first trajectory for the first spacecraft and establishing a second trajectory for the second spacecraft, wherein the first trajectory is different than the second trajectory; subjecting the first spacecraft to a gravitational force of the third celestial body whereby the first trajectory of the first spacecraft is modified and the first spacecraft assumes a first orbit about the first celestial body; subjecting the second spacecraft to the gravitational force of the third celestial body whereby the second trajectory of the second spacecraft is modified and the second spacecraft assumes a second orbit about the first celestial body; and where the first orbit is different than the second orbit.

In another aspect, the invention provides a step of separating a third spacecraft from the second spacecraft.

In another aspect, the invention provides a step of separating an Nth spacecraft from the third spacecraft.

In another aspect, the invention provides a step of subjecting at least one of the spacecraft to the gravitational field of the third celestial body a second time.

In another aspect, the first orbit is circumferentially ahead of an orbit of the second celestial body.

In another aspect, the second orbit is circumferentially behind an orbit of the second celestial body.

In another aspect, an N number of spacecraft are stored aboard the spaceship.

In another aspect, the invention provides a method for deploying a plurality of spacecraft about a first celestial body comprising the steps of: storing a first spacecraft and a second spacecraft aboard a single spaceship; launching the spaceship from a second celestial body different than the first celestial body; flying the spaceship to a third celestial body; separating the first spacecraft and the second spacecraft from the spaceship while the spaceship is traveling towards the third celestial body from the second celestial body; separating the first spacecraft from the second spacecraft while the spaceship is traveling towards the third celestial body from the second celestial body; subjecting the first spacecraft to a gravitational force of the third celestial body whereby the first spacecraft assumes a first orbit about the first celestial body; subjecting the second spacecraft to the gravitational force of the third celestial body whereby the second spacecraft assumes a second orbit about the first celestial body; and wherein the first orbit is circumferentially ahead of the second celestial body and wherein the second orbit is circumferentially behind the second celestial body.

In another aspect, the invention provides a method of deploying a plurality of satellites from Earth, the Earth orbiting a Sun in a first heliocentric orbit about the Sun and the Earth moving in a first circumferential direction with respect to the Sun, comprising the steps of: storing a first spacecraft and a second spacecraft in a single spaceship; launching the spaceship containing the first satellite and the second satellite and directing the spaceship to a Moon of the Earth; separating the first spacecraft from the second spacecraft so that the first spacecraft assumes a first trajectory and the second spacecraft assumes a second trajectory; the first trajectory being different than the second trajectory; subjecting the first spacecraft to a gravitational field of the moon, the gravitational field changing the first trajectory and sending the first spacecraft to a second heliocentric orbit; subjecting the second spacecraft to the gravitational field of the moon, the gravitational field changing the second trajectory and sending the second spacecraft to a third heliocentric orbit; and wherein the second heliocentric orbit is different than the first heliocentric orbit and wherein the second heliocentric orbit is different than the third heliocentric orbit.

In another aspect, the first spacecraft from the second spacecraft travel towards the Moon as a separated pair of spacecraft.

In another aspect, the second heliocentric orbit is ahead of the Earth.

In another aspect, the third heliocentric orbit is behind the Earth.

In another aspect, the first spacecraft and the second spacecraft are disposed on opposite sides of the Earth.

In another aspect, the angular displacement of the first spacecraft from the Earth is approximately equal to the angular displacement of the second spacecraft from the Earth.

Other systems, methods, features and advantages of the invention will be, or will become, apparent to one with skill in the art upon examination of the following figures and detailed description. It is intended that all such additional systems, methods, features and advantages be included within this description, be within the scope of the invention, and be protected by the following claims.

Patent Status: U.S. patent(s) 7219858 issued.

*JHU/APL is seeking an exclusive licensee and development partner for this technology

CONTACT:
Mr. J. E. Dietz
Phone: (443) 778-8782
ott-techmanager5@jhuapl.edu

Additional References:

Link to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Patent Drawing