Mobile target tracking using a reconfigurable low earth orbit constellation

Sarah J. Morgan, Ciara McGrath, Olivier L. De Weck

Research output: Other contribution


Traditional Earth-observing satellite constellations must preselect orbits to match established mission objectives, inherently limiting the capability of the system to respond to dynamic events. A more flexible approach to constellation design which maneuvers satellites to new orbits throughout the mission lifetime can enable the tracking of mobile targets; such a concept will be explored and evaluated in the following paper. Currently, an existing approach for creating a reconfigurable constellation of satellites (ReCon) demonstrates some increased functionality. However, the repeating ground track (RGT) orbits used are only well-suited for static ground targets (i.e. particular latitude and longitude points) as they are defined by their repetitious passes over the particular points on the globe; inherently these orbits are not ideal for tracking mobile targets such as ships, oil spills, hurricanes, and other weather events. By addressing this gap and designing the constellation to follow these mobile targets, data return can be of higher quality and quantity leading toward improved predictions of future movements. Traditional non-maneuverable satellites may of course capture mobile feature data; however, the quality and quantity of data returned is driven by the satellites’ orbits which were not designed for the particular mobile target. A proposed concept of operations that models possible sequential satellite maneuvers as a graph has shown promise for tracking mobile targets in the case of a single satellite. In the following paper, this concept is further explored by the addition of an optimizer to this method, applied to both a single satellite and a constellation of maneuverable satellites, like ReCon. Results for a tropical storm case study indicate that with relatively low amounts of delta-V per satellite, many possible maneuver combinations are found which result in improved accesses with greater total access time and closer passes. Trade-offs are shown between total target access time, mean distance to targets upon access, and total delta-V used. The performance of increased constellation size is also explored. By having satellites dynamically respond to mobile targets such as hurricanes, satellite imagery and remote sensing can be of better quality and even contribute to better predictions for developing storms.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherAmerican Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Place of PublicationReston, VA
ISBN (Print)9781624106088
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2020

Publication series

NameAccelerating Space Commerce, Exploration, and New Discovery Conference, ASCEND 2020


  • target tracking
  • reconfigurable constellation
  • satellites


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