From order to chaos in Earth satellite orbits [EPA]

We consider Earth satellite orbits in the range of semi-major axes where the perturbing effects of Earth’s oblateness and lunisolar gravity are of comparable order. This range covers the medium-Earth orbits (MEO) of the Global Navigation Satellite Systems and the geosynchronous orbits (GEO) of the communication satellites. We recall a secular and quadrupolar model, based on the Milankovitch vector formulation of perturbation theory, which governs the long-term orbital evolution subject to the predominant gravitational interactions. We study the global dynamics of this two-and-a-half degrees of freedom Hamiltonian system by means of the fast Lyapunov indicator (FLI), used in a statistical sense. Specifically, we characterize the degree of chaoticity of the action space using angles-averaged normalized FLI maps, thereby overcoming the angle dependencies of the conventional stability maps. Emphasis is placed upon the phase-space structures near secular resonances which are of first importance to the space debris community. We confirm and quantify the transition from order to chaos in MEO, stemming from the critical inclinations, and find that highly inclined GEO orbits are particularly unstable. Despite their reputed normality, Earth satellite orbits can possess an extraordinarily rich spectrum of dynamical behaviors, and, from a mathematical perspective, have all the complications that make them very interesting candidates for testing the modern tools of chaos theory.

Read this paper on arXiv…

I. Gkolias, J. Daquin, F. Gachet, et. al.
Wed, 15 Jun 16

Comments: 28 pages, 8 figures. Submitted to AJ. Comments are greatly appreciated