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002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

MATHEMATICS EXPLORATION
ELLIPTICAL MOTION OF SATELLITES AND PROBABILITY
COLLISION IN SPACE

NAME : CHIRAG HABLANI


IB CANDIDATE NUMBER : 002328 0021
TEACHER NAME : MR. NITIN JAIN
SCHOOL NAME : CHOITHRAM INTERNATIONAL
IB MATHS HL

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

MATHEMATICAL EXPLORATION
RATIONALE
Since I was little, outer space held a certain fascination for me, mostly owing to how matters related to outer
space, despite recent technological advancements, remains relatively unknown. Hence, when presented with
this exploration, what better way to satisfy this long standing curiosity? After much research, and many
consequent times when I felt that this area was beyond my reach due to the complexity of the material I
found, I finally decided on investigating about the elliptical path of satellites and how they remain in orbit .
For this, I will be exploring elliptical paths as well as the explanation and derivation of elliptical equations.
On further research, however, I came across an article on artificial satellites, which grabbed my attention:
"In 2007, a Chinese anti-satellite missile destroyed an ageing
weather satellite, creating millions of pieces of space debris. In
2009, the collision of two satellites created thousands more. By
2010, more than 95 percent of all man-made objects in Earths
orbit were debris. Such a sudden and massive addition to the
space debris environment since 2007 poses a direct threat to
operational satellites and continued space access. This in turn
threatens U.S. national security, to which space access and use
is vital. Unfortunately, future increases in the number of spacefaring
nations and corresponding launches will only exacerbate
this space debris threat." (1)
(Space Debris and Its Threat to National Security: A Proposal for a Binding International Agreement to
Clean Up the Junk by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph S. Imburgia) (1)
This article was shocking in that it revealed the actualities of a satellite colliding; but if so many collisions
occur, why are satellites considered such a huge success? What is the probability of an artificial satellite
colliding with space debris? This, hence, lead me to extend my exploration to also investigate on the
probability of a collision of an artificial satellite with space debris and analyzing this probability.
Putting these two together, I formulated the topic of my exploration, finding that I was looking forward to
investigating on a topic which truly touches my interest, using areas in math which I am least comfortable
with, as in my opinion, a challenge always fuels enthusiasm.
Coming to the topic itself, artificial satellites are man-made objects intentionally placed in Earth's orbit, for
reconnaissance or observation purposes. They follow a specific path, known as an elliptical path, in order to
ensure it remains within the vicinity of the planet's gravitational field. I will be explaining the geometry of his
very path, and as mentioned above, will be analyzing probability of an average satellite in Earth's gravitational
field colliding with another body from outer space.

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

INTRODUCTION
What is an ellipse?
An ellipse is the locus of a point that moves such that the sum of its distances from two fixed points called
the foci is constant (see figure 1). The ellipse follows an equation of

y
+
=1
a
b

FIGURE 1
Assume the sum of the two distances D1 and D2 is 2a. The ratio of the distance between the foci (-c to c)
to length of the line (2a) is called the eccentricity of the ellipse denoted by the symbol e, so that the
distance between the foci is 2ae, and e is a number between 0 and 1. Eccentric means "off center" thus
eccentricity is a measure of off centeredness. The formula for eccentricity is e =
The longest axis of the ellipse is its major axis, and a little bit of thought will show that its length is equal to
the length of the line; that is, 2a from point V1 to V2 , The shortest axis is the minor axis, and its length is
usually denoted by 2b, shown in the figure from point C1 to C2 )
The ratio

is called the ellipticity in the ellipse. It is an alternative measure of the non-

circularity of an ellipse. The figure below shows a graphical relationship between ellipticity and eccentricity.

(https://www.desmos.com/

Ellipticity

calculator)

FIGURE 2

Eccentricity
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002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

DERIVATION OF FORMULA OF ELLIPSE

FIGURE 3

( )

+( ) +

( ) + ( ) = constant

The definition of an ellipse can be use to obtain its equation. By looking at the case when the point on the
ellipse is a vertex and adding up the distances from that vertex to each focus, we know that the sum of the
distances is 2a. Therefore the Constant in the above equation is equal to 2a.

FIGURE 4
Also using Pythagorean Theorem, we could reach to a conclusion where a2 = b2+ c2
The distance formula ( equation 1 above ) can be simplified to obtain the standard equation of an ellipse.
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( )

+( ) +

Chirag Hablani

( ) + ( ) = 2a

( ) + ( ) = 2a - ( + ) + ( )
( ) + ( ) = (2a - ( + ) + ( ) )2

(Squaring on both sides)

( + ) +( ) +( + ) +

( + ) +( ) +

( + ) +( )

Dividing both sides of equation by -4:

Squaring again :

Combining like terms : (


also

therefore

(substituting

( + ) +( )

Dividing both sides by

=1

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

The definition of an ellipse can also be used to derive a relationship between eccentricity and ellipticity.

FIGURE 5
In the figure above, the two foci are placed on the x- axis at coordinates (ae, 0) and (ae, 0), where e
represents the eccentricity of the ellipse. By definition PF1 + PF2 = 2a. Using the same method of derivation
above, we get an equation in form of

+( ) +

) + ( ) = 2a

On further simplification of the equation like in the previous pages, I arrive at an equation

By putting x=0 , The ellipse intersects the Y-axis at


the standard equation of an ellipse, b =

(1

). Also when comparing the equation to

Using the relationship derived above, I can further derive a relationship between ellipticity and eccentricity.
=

Multiplying the above equation by -1, we get an equation in form of

= 1

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

Adding 1 on both sides, we get an equation in form of


1

= 1 1

The left hand side of the equation is equal to ellipticity. Therefore

Squaring on both sides and we get an equation

This can also be written as

This incidentally shows that the graph of


= 0 and

(
(

1 1

1) = 1

versus

1) +

=1

drawn in FIGURE 2 is a circle of radius 1 centered at

=1

To understand better the difference between ellipticity and eccentricity, In Figure 6,I have drawn ellipses of
different ellipticities in step of 0.1 from 0.0 to 0.9 and In Figure 7, I have drawn ellipses of different
eccentricities 0. to 0.9 in steps of 0.1.
The figure below shows ellipses with different eccentricities from 0.0 to 0.9 . To make ellipses of different
eccentricities, I made use of ( http://www.mathopenref.com/ellipseeccentricity.html) . The site can be used
to make ellipses of different eccentricities.

FIGURE 6

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Chirag Hablani

The figure below shows ellipses of different ellipticities from 0.0 to 0.9

FIGURE 7

On comparison of Figure 6 and Figure 7, One can easily see that Ellipticity is a better measure of
non-circularity than eccentricity.

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

EXAMPLE
Let us look at an example to validate the above derived relationships.
Molniya Orbit is a type of a highly elliptical orbit named after Russian communication satellites that
have been in use since in the 1960's.The Molniya orbit is highly eccentric: the satellite moves in an
extreme ellipse with the Earth close to one edge. Because it is accelerated by our planets gravity, the
satellite moves very quickly when it is close to the Earth. As it moves away, its speed slows, so it spends
more time at the top of its orbit farthest from the Earth. A satellite in a Molniya orbit takes 12 hours to
complete its orbit, but it spends about two-thirds of that time over one hemisphere. Like a semisynchronous orbit, a satellite in the Molniya orbit passes over the same path every 24 hours. This type of
orbit is useful for communications in the far north or south. The picture below is a representation of the
Molniya Orbit.

From the Internet


(https://campus.tum.de/tumonline/LV_TX.wbDisplayTerminDoc?pTerminDocNr=7539) I found the
Semi Major axis 26600 km while the Semi Minor axis 19000 km. Using the formula mentioned
above e =

, The eccentricity of the elliptical orbit e .7. Further the value of ellipticity

using the derived relationship above is (

1) = 1

where e .7. The value of

0.714

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

PROBABILITY OF COLLISION

(http://mstl.atl.calpoly.edu/~bklofas/Presentations/DevelopersWorkshop2014/Kelley_Orbital_Debris_Mitigation.pdf)

The exploitation of the near-Earth space environment by commercial, military and scientic
interests during the last 50 years has led to the increasing likelihood of collisions between orbiting
objects. The graph above is a representation in the increase of the total objects. Currently, a very
large number of space debris are orbiting in near earth orbit below 2000 km which could
potentially threaten space missions and spacecrafts (Sun & Zhao 2013, Sun, R.-Y., & Zhao, C.-Y.
2013, RAA (Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics), 13, 604). Collision events could disturb or
damage spacecrafts as well as produce new debris, leading to a vicious cycle in the space
environment. Although a collision event between two space objects rarely happens, several
collision accidents have already been conrmed . The photos below show a representation of
Earth and its orbital objects in space. The rapid growth in space objects is clearly visible in the
photos. The images show objects larger than 10 cm in size.

Year 2000

Year 2005

Year 2010

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Chirag Hablani

Table 1

Table 2

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Chirag Hablani

Table 3
The tables above is a comparison of probability of collision using different models of calculation ( NASA,
Patera, Alfano and Chan).
Table 1 shows comparisons for the case of extremely close encounters between a small spacecraft and space
debris with combined cross-sectional radius of 5 meters. The first column is for the case of the primary on the
major axis of the error ellipse while the second column is for the primary on the minor axis. In the first
column, it is seen that the collision probability is 9.74 X 10-3 computed by the numerical NASA, Patera and
Alfano models. The analytical Chan model yields 9.75 X 10-3.
The first two columns of Table 2 show comparisons for the case of close encounters between two small
spacecraft or a slightly larger spacecraft and space debris with combined cross-sectional radius of 10 meters.
In the first two columns, it is seen that the collision probability is 1.577 X 10-5 and 1.011 X 10-5 respectively for
the cases of the primary on the major and the minor axes. These numbers are obtained using the numerical
NASA, Patera and Alfano models as well as for the two analytical Chan models. It is seen that the above
general observations hold for the collision probabilities which are 6.443 X 10-8and 3.22 X 10-27 (the latter being
essentially zero)
The first two columns of Table 3 show comparisons for the case of distant encounters between two
space-orbiting objects with combined cross-sectional radius of 10 meters. The nominal miss distance is 10 km.
It is seen that the four models yield collision probabilities of 3.03 X 106 and 9.65 X 10-28respectively for the
cases of the primary on the major and the minor axes.

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Chirag Hablani

CONCLUSION
The results show that the probability of collision in space is infact really small in value. However with today's
annual launch rates of 60 to 70 new satellites per year, and with future break-ups continuing to occur at
average historic rates of four to five per year, the number of debris objects in space will steadily increase. As a
consequence of the rising debris object count, the probability for catastrophic collisions will also grow in a
progressive manner; doubling the number of objects will increase the collision risk approximately four times.
On further research, it's imperative to remove this space debris to reduce the growth of space debris
population. Mitigation of the Earth Space Debris population is essential to keep the hazards in space to a
minimum and within tolerable limits. Currently countries like USA, Japan, France employ space debris
mitigation guidelines to remove space debris. Furthermore Methods like DEORBIT SPACECRAFT AND ROCKET STAGES
AT END OF MISSION BY PROPULSION SYSTEMS OR OTHER MEANS, ORBITAL LIFETIME REDUCTION BY TRANSFER TO LOWER ORBIT, BY
USE OF NATURAL PERTURBATIONS (SUN AND MOON), OR BY DRAG AUGMENTATION DEVICE, ACTIVE REMOVAL BY SPACE VEHICLES
AND ACCELERATE ORBITAL DECAY FOR SMALL AS WELL AS LARGE SPACE DEBRIS USING ADVANCED TECHNOLOGIES can be used in
future to keep the probability to a minimum.

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002328-0021

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Chirag Hablani

Bibliography

(1) Space Debris and Its Threat to National Security: A Proposal for a Binding International Agreement to
Clean Up the Junk. (n.d.). [online] Available at: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/jotl/manage/wpcontent/uploads/Imburgia-FINAL-CR-pdf.pdf [Accessed 1 Nov. 2014].

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