Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Hanspeter Schaub

Second Advisor

Penina Axelrad

Third Advisor

George Born


This dissertation investigates the dynamics and control of a two-craft Coulomb formation in circular orbits and at libration points; it addresses relative equilibria, stability and optimal reconfigurations of such formations. The relative equilibria of a two-craft tether formation connected by line-of-sight elastic forces moving in circular orbits and at libration points are investigated. In circular Earth orbits and Earth-Moon libration points, the radial, along-track, and orbit normal great circle equilibria conditions are found. An example of modeling the tether force using Coulomb force is discussed. Furthermore, the non-great-circle equilibria conditions for a two-spacecraft tether structure in circular Earth orbit and at collinear libration points are developed. Then the linearized dynamics and stability analysis of a 2-craft Coulomb formation at Earth- Moon libration points are studied. For orbit-radial equilibrium, Coulomb forces control the relative distance between the two satellites. The gravity gradient torques on the formation due to the two planets help stabilize the formation. Similar analysis is performed for alongtrack and orbit-normal relative equilibrium configurations. Where necessary, the craft use a hybrid thrusting-electrostatic actuation system. The two-craft dynamics at the libration points provide a general framework with circular Earth orbit dynamics forming a special case. In the presence of differential solar drag perturbations, a Lyapunov feedback controller is designed to stabilize a radial equilibrium, two-craft Coulomb formation at collinear libration points. The second part of the thesis investigates optimal reconfigurations of two-craft Coulomb formations in circular Earth orbits by applying nonlinear optimal control techniques. The objective of these reconfigurations is to maneuver the two-craft formation between two charged equilibria configurations. The reconfiguration of spacecraft is posed as an optimization problem using the calculus of variations approach. The optimality criteria are minimum time, minimum acceleration of the separation distance, minimum Coulomb and electric propulsion fuel usage, and minimum electrical power consumption. The continuous time problem is discretized using a pseudospectral method, and the resulting finite dimensional problem is solved using a sequential quadratic programming algorithm. The software package, DIDO, implements this approach. This second part illustrates how pseudospectral methods significantly simplify the solution-finding process.