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Sun Syncrhonous Orbits

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for the

Earth Solar Power Satellite System

Some of the most promising orbits for the Earth Solar Power System are

circular Sun synchronous orbits which never enter Earth's shadow. In these

orbits, gravity gradient stabilized "power towers" will orbit in planes which are

within about 30 of perpendicular to the Earth-Sun line and the solar arrays can

be set for near optimum power capture. The solar synchronicity of the orbits is

caused by the Earth's oblateness (i.e., the J2 term in Earth's geopotential).

There are a number of quantities which must be considered together

when choosing orbits for the Earth Solar Power System. However, the analysis

is quite simple. If we choose circular Sun-synchronous orbits as our baseline

configuration, the choice of the inclination of the orbit determines the orbital

altitude ( radius & period) as well as the displacement in longitude between

successive ascending or descending nodes ( and hence the distance between

successive ascending or descending nodes at the equator). The choice of

inclination also determines the maximum latitude excursions away from the

poles made by the groundtrack of satellites in the orbit.

Plots 1 through 5 have been developed with respect to circular Sun

synchronous Earth orbits. Figures 1 and 2 show the variation in orbital radius

and orbital altitude versus orbital inclination, respectively, for circular Sun

synchronous orbits. Figures 3 and 4 show the angular and linear distances,

respectively, between successive ascending (descending) nodes measured along

the equator of the Earth versus orbital inclination for circular Sun synchronous

orbits. Figure 5 is a plot of the orbital periods of circular Sun synchronous orbits

versus orbital inclination.

In order for an orbit to be Sun synchronous, the node line must move

eastward at a rate of one revolution per year. This motion, caused by the

oblateness of the Earth, is described by the equation

J2

3

= *(Re q / p) 2 n J 2 *cos(i)

2

inclination of the orbit. The rotation rate of the Earth is given by

earth =.000072921 rad / s .

13000

O

r 12000

b

i

t 11000

R

a 10000

d

i 9000

u

s

8000

k

m 7000

6000

90

100

110

120

130

140

150

160

170

180

Inclination (deg)

Synchronous Earth Orbits

Altitude (km) vs Inclination (deg)

6000

5000

A

l

t 4000

i

t

u 3000

d

e 2000

k 1000

m

0

-1000

90

100

110

120

130

140

150

160

170

Inclination (deg)

Synchronous Earth Orbits

180

-20

D -25

e

l

t -30

a

-35

L

o

-40

n

g

-45

d -50

e

g

-55

-60

90

100

110

120

130

140

150

160

170

180

Inclination (deg)

Relative to a Rotating Earth) versus Orbital Inclination

for Circular Sun Synchronous Earth Orbits

Dist West Along Equator per A-Node (km) vs Inc (deg)

-2000

A

N

-2500

o

d

e -3000

t -3500

o

-4000

A

N -4500

o

d -5000

e

k

m

-5500

-6000

-6500

90

100

110

120

130

140

150

160

170

180

Inclination (deg)

versus Orbital Inclination for Circular Sun Synchronous Earth Orbits

240

O

r 220

b

i

t 200

P 180

e

r

160

i

o

d 140

- 120

m

i

100

n

80

90

100

110

120

130

140

150

160

170

180

Inclination (deg)

Figure 5. Orbital Period versus Orbital Inclination for Circular Sun Synchronous

Earth Orbits

The following facts, which have been developed from interpretation of these

plots, are noted.

1.

All Sun synchronous orbits are retrograde (i.e., they have inclinations in the

range 90 i 180.

2.

is where | | = (180 - i ) . This means, for example, that in order for

the ground track to go 60 north and south of the equator, the inclination of

the Sun synchronous orbit would be 120, or if the groundtrack were to go

70 north and south of the equator, the inclination of the orbit would be

110.

3.

Assuming that the orbital altitudes lower that 1000 km would produce too

much drag, the minimum inclination available for Sun sy;nchronous orbits

will be about 100. Lower inclinations, which are closer to polar orbits,

would lead to Sun synchronous orbits at altitudes below 1000 km. Sun

synchronous orbits having inclinations between 90 and 96 are impossible

because the require orbital altitudes are less than the radius of the Earth.

4.

Sun synchronous orbits with inclinations in the range 150 i 180 are

unacceptable because their ground tracks do not go far enough north or

south. For | | = 30. A range such that | | 50 is more realistic from

the point of view of geographic coverage for power transmission to the

surface of the Earth. As a point of reference, Anchorage, Alaska is located

at a latitude of about 60 North.

5.

The closer a circular Sun synchronous orbit is to polar, the lower the orbit

altitude.

6.

north and south (inclinations between 100 and 130) will have altitudes

lying in the range between 1000 km and 4500 km.

7.

Sun synchronous orbits with inclinations between 100 and 130 have

periods in the range of 108 minutes to just over 188 minutes.

8.

Sun synchronous orbits with inclinations between 100 and 130 have

ascending nodes (relative to the Earth) which are 27 to 47 apart, The

corresponding distances between ascending nodes (measured along the

Earth's equator) are between 3000 km and 5240km.

Additional Geometric Considerations

The angle between the orbit plane of a Sun synchronous orbit and the

Earth-Sun line will not remain constant. Consider the case of an orbit for which,

on the date of the winter solstice (approximately Dec 21st), the angle between

the orbital plane and the Earth-Sun line, , called the Sun angle, is 90. On this

date, the orbital angular momentum vector of the orbit points directly away

from the Sun. This orbit will have an inclination of approximately 113.5. The

satellite's ascending node will be ahead of the Earth along the Earth's velocity

vector around the Sun. The line of nodes lies in the plane perpendicular to the

Earth-Sun line.

Three months later, at the time of the vernal equinox (about March 21st),

the inclination of the orbit will remain the same and the node line will have

precessed 90. The ascending node will still be "ahead" of the Earth but will not

be on the velocity vector since the Earth's velocity vector will not, at this time, lie

in the equatorial plane. The satellite's orbital angular momentum vector will

have precessed such that the line of nodes still lies in the plane perpendicular to

the Earth-Sun line, but the northern part of the orbit plane is inclined toward the

Sun. The angle between the orbital plane and the Earth-Sun line is now 90 23.5 ( ~ 66.5) . Note that the inclination of the orbit with respect to Earth's

equator has not changed, but the line of nodes has precessed 90 during these

three months.

At the time of the summer solstice, the orbit will again be in a plane such

that the line of nodes is in the plane perpendicular to the Earth-Sun line.

However, the angle between the orbital plane and the Earth-Sun line will now be

about 43 ( 90 - 2*23.5). Again, the northern half of the orbit will be inclined

toward the Sun.

Earth Shadow Effects

Figure 6 is a plot of the raduis of the shadow of the Earth, measured

perpendicular to the Earth-Sun line and Rsmallest, the minimum component of a

circular Sun synchronous orbit normal to the Earth-Sun line versus orbital

inclination.

Rshadow & Rsmallest (km) vs Inclination (deg)

6700

S

m

a 6600

l

l

6500

R

p 6400

e

r 6300

p

e

n 6200

d

i

c 6100

u

l

6000

98

100

102

104

106

108

110

112

114

116

118

120

Inclination (deg)

(the Minimum Circular Sun Synchronous Orbit Component

Normal to the Earth-Sun Line) versus Orbital Inclination.

The Earth / Sun / orbit geometry for Sun Synchronous orbits with

angular momentum vectors that project onto the Earth - Sun line () is such that

orbits with inclinations greater than 115.36 go into the Earth's shadow at least

once per year. Sun synchronous orbits with angular momentum vectors which

project onto the ecliptic plane at a an angle away from the Earth Sun line go

into the Earth's shadow at inclinations even nearer to polar.

Thus, the inclinations for Sun synchronous orbits which do not go into the

shadow of the Earth must be less than 115.36 (radii 9694 km or altitudes

3316 km). The periods of these orbits are less than 9500 seconds (158 1/3

minutes). The angular displacement per revolution relative to the rotating Earth

for such orbits is 39.6, measured on the equator ( 39.6 is equivalent to 4407

km between successive northbound equator crossings).

Also, note from Figure 6 that for circular Sun synchronous orbits with

inclinations less than about 101.5 (101.45 is closer), the satellite again goes into

the shadow of the Earth, even with the line of nodes along the 6AM - 6PM line.

Thus, if we only use orbits that remain in constant sunlight, our orbits are

restricted to

101.45 <

7781 km <

1403 km <

113.9 min <

28.5

<

3170 km <

Radius

< 9694 km

Altitude

< 3316 km

Period

< 158.3 min

Nodal Displacement* per rev < 39.6

Nodal Displacement* per rev < 4407 km

They are dominated by the effect of the rotation of the Earth (about 15

per hour), but also include the precession due to J2 (one revolution per

year). These two effects are in opposite directions for Sun synchronous

orbits.

Let us assume that a satellite is in a circular Sun synchronous orbit with

altitude h and that the radius of the Earth is Req . Assume that the minimum

elevation (angle above the horizon) from which a ground station can receive

power is EL . We need to find the width of the swath onto which the satellite

could possibly beam power, given the altitude h and the minimum elevation, EL

. We will express the width of the swath both in angular measure (deg) and in

linear measure (km).

EL

Re

Re

Using the laws of sines, the angles , ,and EL can be found as functions of the

orbital altitude, h. If the graphs are drawn for the elevation angle taking on the

values EL = 20 and for EL = 30, we get the plots of swath width in degrees

and in km shown below.

70

S

65

w

a 60

t

h 55

a 50

n

g 45

l

e 40

( 35

d

e 30

g

25

)

20

98

100

102

104

106

108

110

112

114

116

118

120

118

120

Inclination (deg)

8000

S 7500

w

7000

a

t 6500

h

6000

W

i 5500

d 5000

t

h 4500

- 4000

3500

k

m 3000

2500

98

100

102

104

106

108

110

112

Inclination (deg)

114

116

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