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University of Vermont Theses & Dissertations

Wood, Stephanie
Gravitational Potential Modeling of Near-Earth Contact Binaries
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.

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