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Orbital Mechanics: For Engineering Students


Author: Howard D. Curtis

Publisher: Butterworth-Heinemann


Publish Date: May 28, 2011

ISBN-10: 80971903

Pages: 694

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

This textbook evolved from a formal set of notes developed over nearly ten years of teaching an introductory course in orbital mechanics for aerospace engineering students. These undergraduate students had no prior formal experience in the subject, but had completed courses in physics, dynamics and mathematics through differential equations and applied linear algebra. That is the background I have presumed for readers of this book.

This is by no means a grand, descriptive survey of the entire subject of astronautics. It is a foundations text, a springboard to advanced study of the subject. I focus on the physical phenomena and analytical procedures required to understand and predict, to first order, the behavior of orbiting spacecraft. I have tried to make the book readable for undergraduates, and in so doing I do not shy away from rigor where it is needed for understanding. Spacecraft operations that take place in earth orbit are considered as are interplanetary missions. The important topic of spacecraft control systems is omitted. However, the material in this book and a course in control theory provide the basis for the study of spacecraft attitude control.

A brief perusal of the Contents shows that there are more than enough topics to cover in a single semester or term. Chapter 1 is a review of vector kinematics in three dimensions and of Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation. It also focuses on the issue of relative motion, crucial to the topics of rendezvous and satellite attitude dynamics. Chapter 2 presents the vector-based solution of the classical two-body problem, coming up with a host of practical formulas for orbit and trajectory analysis. The restricted three-body problem is covered in order to introduce the notion of Lagrange points. Chapter 3 derives Kepler’s equations, which relate position to time for the different kinds of orbits. The concept of ‘universal variables’ is introduced. Chapter 4 is devoted to describing orbits in three dimensions and accounting for the major effects of the earth’s oblate, non-spherical shape. Chapter 5 is an introduction to preliminary orbit determination, including Gibbs’ and Gauss’s methods and the solution of Lambert’s problem. Auxiliary topics include topocentric coordinate systems, Julian day numbering and sidereal time. Chapter 6 presents the common means of transferring from one orbit to another by impulsive delta-v maneuvers, including Hohmann transfers, phasing orbits and plane changes. Chapter 7 derives and employs the equations of relative motion required to understand and design two-impulse rendezvous maneuvers. Chapter 8 explores the basics of interplanetary mission analysis. Chapter 9 presents those elements of rigid-body dynamics required to characterize the attitude of an orbiting satellite. Chapter 10 describes the methods of controlling, changing and stabilizing the attitude of spacecraft by means of thrusters, gyros and other devices. Finally, Chapter 11 is a brief introduction to the characteristics and design of multi-stage launch vehicles.

Chapters 1 through 4 form the core of a first orbital mechanics course. The time devoted to Chapter 1 depends on the background of the student. It might be surveyed briefly and used thereafter simply as a reference.What follows Chapter 4 depends on the objectives of the course.

Chapters 5 through 8 carry on with the subject of orbital mechanics. Chapter 6 on orbital maneuvers should be included in any case. Coverage of Chapters 5, 7 and 8 is optional. However, if all of Chapter 8 on interplanetary missions is to forma part of the course, then the solution of Lambert’s problem (Section 5.3) must be studied beforehand.

Chapters 9 and 10must be covered if the course objectives include an introduction to satellite dynamics. In that case Chapters 5, 7 and 8 would probably not be studied in depth.

Chapter 11 is optional if the engineering curriculum requires a separate course in propulsion, including rocket dynamics.

To understand the material and to solve problems requires using a lot of undergraduate mathematics. Mathematics, of course, is the language of engineering. Studentsmust not forget that Sir IsaacNewton had to invent calculus so he could solve orbital mechanics problems precisely. Newton (1642–1727) was an English physicist and mathematician, whose 1687 publication Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (‘the Principia’) is one of the most influential scientific works of all time. It must be noted that the German mathematician GottfriedWilhelm von Leibniz (1646– 1716) is credited with inventing infinitesimal calculus independently of Newton in the 1670s.

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