Trajectory design of perseus: A cubesat mission concept to phobos

Ravi Teja Nallapu, Graham Dektor, Nalik Kenia, James Uglietta, Shota Ichikawa, Mercedes Herreras-Martinez, Akshay Choudhari, Aman Chandra, Stephen Schwartz, Erik Asphaug, Jekanthan Thangavelautham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Martian satellites Phobos and Deimos hold many unanswered questions that may provide clues to the origin of Mars. These moons are low ∆v stopover sites to Mars. Some human missions to Mars typically identify Phobos and Deimos as staging bases for Mars surface exploration. Astronauts could base initial operations there in lieu of repeated voyages to and from the planet surface, to refuel transiting spacecraft, to teleoperate robotics and other critical machinery, and to develop habitable infrastructure ahead of human landings. Despite their strategic and scientific significance, there has been no successful dedicated mission to either moon. For this reason, we propose Perseus, a geological imaging CubeSat mission to Phobos. Perseus, a 27U, 54 kg CubeSat will return thermal and visible images at resolutions better than currently available over most of Phobos’ surface. This includes visible images at 5 m/pixel and thermal images at 25 m/pixel of Phobos’ surface. The Perseus mission is nominally intended to be a co-orbital mission, where the spacecraft will encounter Phobos on its Martian orbit. However, a hyperbolic rendezvous mission concept, to image Phobos on a hyperbolic flyby, is also considered to reduce the risks associated with orbit capture and to reduce mission costs. This paper presents the preliminary feasibility, science objectives, and technological development challenges of achieving these science goals. We then formulate two rendezvous concepts as a series of three nonlinear optimization problems that span the design tree of mission concepts. The tree’s root node is the heliocentric cruise problem, which identifies the near-optimal launch and arrival windows for the Perseus spacecraft. The leaf nodes of the design tree are the two rendezvous concepts that identify near-optimal co-orbital and hyperbolic trajectories for Phobos’ reconnaissance. The design problems are solved using evolutionary algorithms, and the performance of the selected mission concepts is then examined. The results indicate that a co-orbital encounter allows about one encounter per day with about 6 min per encounter. The hyperbolic encounter, on the other hand, allows a single encounter where the spacecraft will spend about 2 min in the imaging region with respect to Phobos. The spacecraft will obtain higher resolution images of Phobos on this feasible region than have ever been seen for most of the surface. These detailed images will help identify candidate landing sites and provide critical data to derisk future surface missions to Phobos.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number179
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Trajectory design of perseus: A cubesat mission concept to phobos'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this