Propellantless Formation Flight via Coulomb and Lorentz Forces

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G. E. Pollock; J. W. Gangestad; J. M. Longuski (2010), JBIS, 63, 2-8

Refcode: 2010.63.2
Keywords: Formation flight, Coulomb force, Lorentz force, propulsion system

Electrostatically charged spacecraft have been proposed for formation-flight applications in low-Earth orbit and geosynchronous Earth orbit. The inter-spacecraft Coulomb force acts internally on the formation and the induced geomagnetic Lorentz force provides an external perturbation on the satellites. The orbital altitude and local plasma conditions dictate which force is most influential. The Coulomb force tends to dominate at high altitudes and small separation distances between spacecraft, whereas the Lorentz force is more effective at low altitudes irrespective of separation distance. A domain of altitudes and separation distances is identified where both forces have similar magnitudes. This combination of forces yields substantially different dynamical behavior than either force acting alone. Notional Coulomb-Lorentz spacecraft formations are introduced that use both forces in a complementary manner for formation control and orbit control. Example applications are presented for circular and elliptical orbits.

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