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Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

MATHEMATICS EXPLORATION

ELLIPTICAL MOTION OF SATELLITES AND PROBABILITY

COLLISION IN SPACE

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

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

(https://www.desmos.com/

Ellipticity

calculator)

FIGURE 2

Eccentricity

3

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

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.

4

002328-0021

Choithram International

( )

+( ) +

Chirag Hablani

( ) + ( ) = 2a

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

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

( + ) +( ) +( + ) +

( + ) +( ) +

( + ) +( )

Squaring again :

also

therefore

(substituting

( + ) +( )

=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

the standard equation of an ellipse, b =

(1

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

=

= 1

002328-0021

Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

1

= 1 1

= 0 and

(

(

1 1

1) = 1

versus

1) +

=1

=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

002328-0021

Choithram International

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.

(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

1) = 1

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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Choithram International

Chirag Hablani

Table 1

Table 2

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Choithram International

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.

12

002328-0021

Choithram International

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.

13

002328-0021

Choithram International

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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