Orbit-attitude coupled motion around small bodies: Sun-synchronous orbits with Sun-tracking attitude motion

Shota Kikuchi, Kathleen C. Howell, Yuichi Tsuda, Jun'ichiro Kawaguchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


The motion of a spacecraft in proximity to a small body is significantly perturbed due to its irregular gravity field and solar radiation pressure. In such a strongly perturbed environment, the coupling effect of the orbital and attitude motions exerts a large influence that cannot be neglected. However, natural orbit-attitude coupled dynamics around small bodies that are stationary in both orbital and attitude motions have yet to be observed. The present study therefore investigates natural coupled motion that involves both a Sun-synchronous orbit and Sun-tracking attitude motion. This orbit-attitude coupled motion enables a spacecraft to maintain its orbital geometry and attitude state with respect to the Sun without requiring active control. Therefore, the proposed method can reduce the use of an orbit and attitude control system. This paper first presents analytical conditions to achieve Sun-synchronous orbits and Sun-tracking attitude motion. These analytical solutions are then numerically propagated based on non-linear coupled orbit-attitude equations of motion. Consequently, the possibility of implementing Sun-synchronous orbits with Sun-tracking attitude motion is demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-48
Number of pages15
JournalActa Astronautica
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Nov
Externally publishedYes


  • Gravity irregularity
  • Orbit-attitude coupled motion
  • Small body
  • Solar radiation pressure
  • Sun-synchronous orbit
  • Sun-tracking motion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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