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Apr 06, 2020

Thesis Patricia Egger

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5 visualizzazioni83 pagineThesis Patricia Egger

EPFL(2014)

© All Rights Reserved

Sei sulla pagina 1di 83

Lausanne

&

Massachussetts Institute of

Technology

Master thesis

to trajectory prediction for future

Earth-asteroid impact mitigation

pegger@mit.edu Prof. Marco Picasso

patricia.egger@epfl.ch

and

Sciper No : 184951 Prof. Olivier de Weck

Abstract

The problem that we will study in this thesis is that of predicting trajec-

tories of asteroids within our solar system. This thesis is a component of a

MIT PhD thesis that aims at determining the utility of precursor missions

in asteroid deflection campaigns.

The main contributions of this thesis are (i) the retracing of the historical

development of the equations of motion used in asteroid and planetary tra-

jectory propagation, (ii) the development of a propagator, PAT2 , through

validation of the numerical integrator ode113 built-in to MATLAB with er-

ror validation against NASA’s HORIZONS system and a short discussion

on why symplectic solvers will not be considered in this context, (iii) the

rescaling of the problem in order to reduce numerical noise and (iv) the ap-

plication of this propagator to five asteroids with very different orbits.

One of the main advantages and key differences with most available prop-

agators is that PAT2 only requires the initial conditions of the bodies (i.e.

the state vector y at t = 0, y0 ). In fact, there is no need to store previously

computed planetary ephemerides as is the case in HORIZONS, for example.

This method could produce bigger numerical errors compared to the latter

because the propagated planetary orbits will also include some errors. How-

ever, this is a major simplification for the user and furthermore allows for

the study of planetary trajectory propagation as well as that for asteroids.

The asteroids we consider are chosen because of the differences in their or-

bits’ characteristics, i.e. in order to observe the behavior of PAT2 relative

to important physical parameters. Using this propagator on the notorious

asteroid Apophis, we obtain a maximal numerical error of 500 kilometers

after 10 years. Results for the other asteroids studied range from 600 kilo-

meters to 2.5 thousand kilometers after 10 years. Runtimes range from less

than 7 minutes to about 28 minutes.

As the tradeoff between accuracy, or error, and runtime is essential in many

applications of the N-body problem, we present some data that will help

in choosing the optimal set-up for the propagation of an asteroid given its

physical parameters as well as the runtime and accuracy requirements.

i

Acknowledgements

There are a lot of people that I would like to thank for my experience

researching and writing this thesis. First, I would like express my very

great appreciation for my two supervisors, Professor Picasso from EPFL in

Switzerland and Professor de Weck from MIT in the United States. They

have allowed me to pursue a dream that all young engineering students

share: that of studying in the world’s greatest school. Both of them have

been very supportive of my work and helped me through some important

obstacles. A second special thank you goes to Professor de Weck, a truly

inspirational man and a great role model, for providing me with unimag-

inable opportunities. I would also like to thank my student mentor, PhD

candidate Sung Wook Paek, for introducing me to the world of asteroids and

helping me in my exploration of the world of astronautics. Another thank

you goes to Paul Chodas for not only giving me an inside look at asteroid

and planetary ephemerides at NASA, but also for allowing me to discover

JPL in a front row seat.

I would also like to extend my thanks to all the people from room 33-409

- Andrew, David, Ioana, Koki, Margaret, Narek, Paul, Roi, Sreeja, Sydney

and Takuto from SERG and Dani, Íñigo, Marc, Morgan and Peter from

SAL. They made my few months at MIT that much more fun. Dani and

Marc, thank you for taking me under your wing and Íñigo, thank you for the

spanish lessons. On the Swiss side, I would like to acknowledge my friends

Angelina and Charlotte for their never ending support as well as Alessandro,

Christoph and Francesco for their invaluable help throughout my Bachelor’s

and Master’s degrees at EPFL.

Finally, I would like to thank my family - my mother, father, brothers and

my better half, who have been there for me through the highs and lows, al-

ways encouraging me to reach for the stars (or asteroids, as the case may be).

ii

Contents

2 Physical and Mathematical Background 5

2.1 The N-body problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

2.1.1 Equations of motion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

2.1.2 Hamiltonian formulations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

2.1.3 Derivation of the equations of motion . . . . . . . . . 13

2.2 Numerical Integration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

2.2.1 Geometric numerical integration . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

2.2.2 Accuracy requirements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17

3 PAT2 : Propagator for Asteroid Trajectories Tool 19

3.1 Mathematical and Physical Model . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

3.2 Rescaling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

3.3 Numerical Integration Scheme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

3.4 Output . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26

4 Benchmark comparisons 27

4.1 Possible Candidates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27

4.2 Benchmarking Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

5 Case Studies 31

5.1 Apophis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

5.2 Icarus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47

5.3 2007 FT3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

5.4 2009 VZ39 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

5.5 2008 FF5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

6 Conclusions and Future Work 61

Appendices 66

A JPL Visit Report 67

B Chebyshev Polynomial Interpolation 71

C How Asteroids Get Their Names 72

iii

List of Tables

kilometers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22

3.2 Positions, velocities and accelerations in units of sidereal years

and hundred thousand kilometers (105 km) . . . . . . . . . . 22

3.3 Number of function evaluations for given tolerances . . . . . . 24

3.4 Error in the last time step for Apophis . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

5.2 Error in the last time step for Apophis . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

5.3 Error in the position of Apophis using the Newtonian equa-

tions of motion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

5.4 Some of asteroid Icarus’ relevant physical data . . . . . . . . 47

5.5 Error in the last time step for Icarus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

5.6 Some of asteroid 2007 FT3’s relevant physical data . . . . . . 51

5.7 Error in the last time step for 2007 FT3 . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

5.8 Some of asteroid 2009 VZ39’s relevant physical data . . . . . 54

5.9 Error in the last time step for 2009 VZ39 . . . . . . . . . . . 55

5.10 Number of observations used in the statistical fit and solution

number . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

5.11 Some of asteroid 2008 FF5’s relevant physical data . . . . . . 57

5.12 Error in the last time step for 2008 FF5 . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

iv

List of Figures

2.3 The asteroid belt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10

5.3 Orbit of Apophis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

5.4 Error in the position of Apophis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35

5.5 Component-wise error in the position of Apophis . . . . . . . 36

5.6 Normalized simulated total energy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38

5.7 Ratio of the simulated potential over kinetic energy . . . . . . 39

5.8 Normalized total energy from HORIZONS . . . . . . . . . . . 40

5.9 Ratio of the potential over kinetic energy from HORIZONS . 41

5.10 Error in the position of the Sun . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

5.11 Component-wise error in the position of the Sun . . . . . . . 43

5.12 Error in the position of Jupiter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44

5.13 Component-wise error in the position of Jupiter . . . . . . . . 44

5.14 Error in the position of Mercury . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45

5.15 Component-wise error in the position of Mercury . . . . . . . 45

5.16 Error in the position of Venus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

5.17 Component-wise error in the position of Venus . . . . . . . . 46

5.18 Orbit of Icarus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

5.19 Error in the position of Icarus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49

5.20 Points on Icarus’ orbit with biggest and smallest errors . . . . 50

5.21 Component-wise error in the position of Icarus . . . . . . . . 50

5.22 Orbit of 2007 FT3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

5.23 Error in the position of 2007 FT3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53

5.24 Component-wise error in the position of 2007 FT3 . . . . . . 53

5.25 Orbit of 2009 VZ39 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 54

5.26 Error in the position of 2009 VZ39 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55

v

LIST OF FIGURES

5.28 Orbit of 2008 FF5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

5.29 Error in the position of 2008 FF5 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59

5.30 Points on 2008 FF5’s orbit with biggest errors . . . . . . . . . 59

5.31 Component-wise error in the position of 2008 FF5 . . . . . . 60

6.3 Tolerance versus numerical error tradeoff . . . . . . . . . . . . 62

vi

Glossary and acronyms

maximal distance from the Sun.

orbit around the Sun. Asteroids are believed to be ancient remnants of

the earliest years of the formation of our solar system. In comparison,

comets are a lot less dense than asteroids as they are mainly made of

ice and rock. This is why comets do not pose as much of a threat as

asteroids: they usually do not make it past our atmosphere.

and the Sun. 1 AU = 149,597,870.700 kilometers.

up about 99.8% of the mass of the entire solar system [20], the solar

system barycenter nearly coincides with that of the Sun.

jectory of a potentially hazardous object so as to avoid it colliding with

the Earth.

body’s trajectory. This can be understood as the amount of effort that

is needed to move a body from one trajectory to another.

ing the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The planetary bodies of our

solar system all lie approximately in this plane.

objects as well as artificial satellites in the sky at a given time or times.

motion of a physical system.

vii

LIST OF FIGURES

gin at the solar system barycenter and "space fixed" axis directions, the

ICRF is meant to represent the most appropriate coordinate system

for expressing reference data on the positions and motions of celestial

objects.

Earth Asteroid): These are objects that have a closest approach

distance with the Earth’s orbit of less than 0.3 AU.

number, e, that determines the amount by which its orbit around the

center body deviates from a perfect circle. An orbit with e = 0 is

therefore a circle. When 0 < e < 1, we have an ellipse, when e = 1 a

parabola and e > 1 a hyperbola.

to the Sun.

resp. Potentially Hazardous Asteroid): These are NEAs whose

Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance (MOID) with the Earth is 0.05

AU and whose diameter is greater than 140 meters (minimum diameter

needed in order to penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere).

gravity is weak and the objects are moving slowly compared to the

speed of light, the theories of general relativity and that of Newton’s

gravity lead to very similar descriptions of the motion of bodies. This

can be seen as taking the Newtonian description and adding successive

correction terms that take into account the effects of general relativity.

The method for successively adding these correction terms is called the

PN formalism.

Is a version of the PN formalism that explicitly details the parameters

in which a general theory of gravity can differ from Newtonian gravity.

time given these bodies’ initial positions and velocities.

State vector: Vector whose components are the positions and veloc-

ities of a given body. As the positions and velocities depend on time,

the state vector is time-dependent.

viii

Section 1

Figure 1.1: Orbits of over 1000 known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs).

These are over 140 meters in diameter and will pass within 7.5 million kilometers

of Earth – about 20 times the distance to the Moon.

† Image taken from http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap130812.html

The first asteroid ever discovered was Ceres in 1801 [21]. Since then,

around 600’000 asteroids have been discovered in our solar system. Recently,

these objects have become a source of scientific research due to a few events

that occurred in the past years. In fact, in 1908, an asteroid entered into

the Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in the sky above Siberia. This has

been documented as the largest impact event on Earth. More recently, in

2013, the Chelyabinsk meteor entered Earth’s atmosphere and exploded in

air causing injuries to almost 1’500 people.

1

SECTION 1. INTRODUCTION AND MOTIVATION

High alt. beak-up < 50 m 0 annual

Regional > 140 m 50’000 5’000 years

Large sub-global > 300 m 500’000 25’000 years

High global > 5 km > 2 billion 6 million years

Extinction-class > 10 km 6 billion 100 million years

Table 1.1 shows a summary of collision event types with their associated

object diameters, number of fatalities and typical impact intervals.

In the scientific community, it is widely believed that a large asteroid col-

lided with our planet approximately 65 million years ago, resulting in the

extinction of dinosaurs. It is not unreasonable to assume that if such an

event were to take place again, it could lead to the demise of the human

race. Hence, the question may not be if an event such as the one respon-

sible for the extinction of dinosaurs will happen, but rather when it will

happen.

Assuming then that we will one day be faced with an Earth-asteroid colli-

sion, it would be prudent to have a mitigation plan, enabling us to avoid

catastrophic consequences and perhaps even save our species.

In view of this, PhD candidate Sung Wook Paek from MIT’s AeroAstro

department decided to focus his doctoral research on asteroid mitigation

missions. More specifically, he will prove the utility of precursor missions

under high initial uncertainties concerning potentially hazardous asteroids.

In fact, there is great uncertainty surrounding certain asteroid parameters

that greatly impact our ability to predict their trajectories. These uncer-

tainties relate to mass, density, shape, etc. and make mitigation missions

tricky. Because it is difficult to reduce these uncertainties with remote ob-

servations from Earth, we can consider precursor missions whose goals are

to obtain valuable information about the potentially hazardous body that

could then be used for an effective and optimized deflection process. There-

fore, Sung Wook’s goal will first be to prove the utility of a precursor mission

and second, he will model and optimize the details of a two-stage mitigation

campaign consisting of a precursor mission and a mitigation mission.

Now, in order to simulate a mitigation mission, it is necessary to estimate fu-

ture trajectories of the potentially hazardous objects. Moreover, it is crucial

to know whether such a deflection mission is necessary. Therefore one must

be able to predict an asteroid’s passage through what is called a keyhole.

2

SECTION 1. INTRODUCTION AND MOTIVATION

Figure 1.2: Differences between orbits of a typical near-Earth asteroid (blue) and

a potentially hazardous asteroid, or PHA (orange). PHAs are a subset of the near-

Earth asteroids (NEAs). They have the closest orbits to Earth’s orbit, coming

within about 8 million kilometers, and they are large enough to survive passage

through Earth’s atmosphere and cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale .

† Image taken from

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/multimedia/gallery/neowise/pia15628.html

Simply put, these are small regions in space with the interesting property

that a body passing through one of these results in it colliding with Earth

(keyholes will be discussed further in Section 2.2.2). In turn, the study of

keyhole passages requires a precise trajectory propagator.

The goal of this thesis will therefore be to develop a high fidelity and fast-

running orbit propagator that can be used both for determining whether or

not an asteroid will pass through a keyhole and for simulating a deflection

mission. Of course, there are propagators that already exist, some of which

are available for public use. However, some of these public propagators do

not make their source code available, making the available options limited

for use in the context of deflection missions. We will explore some of the

ready-made propagators in this thesis.

One of the main motivations for this thesis is to obtain an orbit prop-

agator where the user can explicitly tradeoff accuracy versus computation

time. This tradeoff will be discussed in the case studies in Section 5. In fact,

depending on the work at hand, one might be more interested in obtaining a

very precise ephemeris with a long runtime whereas others might find more

use in a less precise ephemeris whose runtime is shorter. We want to pro-

3

SECTION 1. INTRODUCTION AND MOTIVATION

vide a propagator that is easy to use and that is flexible in the equations,

number of bodies, relativity theory and output and, of course, that is open

source. It should not be required to have advanced knowledge in aerospace

engineering, physics or mathematics in order to use the tool. However, it

should be possible to modify it for those with the knowledge and interest.

The gap that is being addressed with this thesis is that of providing a simple

and flexible orbit propagator that allows the user to propagate and study

not only an asteroid’s trajectory but also all the other bodies that are con-

sidered in the physical model and that only requires initial conditions for

the bodies. Results for five asteroids are given in order to help the user in

chosing the numerical tolerance given desired runtimes and accuracy and

will procvide ball park values for the errors.

This thesis will focus in particular on the asteroid Apophis. Apophis was

discovered only ten years ago, in 2004, and was put in the spotlight when

initial observations and computations indicated a high probability (around

2.7%) that it would collide with Earth in 2029 [22]. We will also study four

other asteroids from NASA’s Sentry table [25] that lists the bodies with

potential future Earth impact events.

provides an overview of the physical and mathematical models that will be

used throughout this research. The equations of motion are described as

well as the variables that come into consideration. Section 3 describes some

aspects of geometric numerical integration that are relevant to the given

problem as well as the requirements for deflection missions. In Section 4, a

new propagator will be introduced along with its mathematical foundation.

Section 5 will be dedicated to testing several different propagators on a

benchmark problem, specifically that of the asteroid Apophis. Using the

results from Section 5, the best available propagator will be selected and

Section 6 will give a detailed analysis of two case studies using the chosen

propagator. Finally, Section 7 will contain conclusions to the problem in

general and specific to asteroid deflection missions. Future work will be

briefly described.

4

Section 2

Background

† Image taken from

http://www.lactamme.polytechnique.fr/images/NCOR.U1.2048.D/display.html

formulation used to model the movement of bodies in our solar system.

When considering N celestial objects (the Sun, planets, moons, et.), this is

referred to as the N-body problem. Simpler versions of this are the 2-body

problem (e.g. the Earth-Sun system) and the 3-body problem (e.g. the

Earth-Moon-Sun system). By including more bodies into the model, i.e. by

5

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

The point mass N-body problem may be stated:

Given the positions and velocities of bodies with known mass at some initial

time t0 , find the positions of the bodies at any other time t > t0 .

The N-body problem is chaotic [2]. Simply put, even if the present

determines the future, the approximate present does not approximately de-

termine the future. In terms of the N-body problem, this means that small

perturbations in mass, trajectories or other physical properties will lead to

enormous and unpredictable changes in the system. This is a purely physical

phenomenon. However, chaos has a numerical counterpart called instabil-

ity. Similarly to the physical meaning, numerical instability means that by

modifying the input data slightly, we will obtain very different numerical re-

sults. While instability is a negative feature of any problem, it does remove

the burden of attempting to identify an integrator that preserves inherent

stability. In fact, when dealing with physically non chaotic (or stable) sys-

tems, we try to choose a numerical scheme that will preserve the stability.

However, if the physical system is chaotic to start with, there is no point in

using a numerically stable integration scheme.

does exist for a general N as proved by Wang in 1991 [3]. This result is far

from trivial. In fact, in 1912, i.e. almost 80 years before Wang generalized

the result, Sundman developed a method that produced a global analytical

solution of the 3 body problem. Unfortunately, these expansions cannot, as

a practical matter, be applied to real problems as they require millions of

terms to be computed even for short times. Therefore solving the N-body

problem requires numerical integration of the equations of motion. More-

over, in the abstract of his paper "The existence of global solution of the

N-body problem" [3], Wang writes:

the present result is of limited value for practical calculation."

(as do we) but does not take into account the relativistic terms that will be

discussed in 2.1.1. Furthermore, there is no mention of the uniqueness of the

solution, i.e. the problem is not well posed according to the mathematical

definition. Considering that it took almost 80 years and a new mathematical

6

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

Figure 2.2: Illustration of the ecliptic plane. This plane is defined as the imaginary

plane containing the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The planetary bodies of our

solar system all nearly lie in this plane. Originally, the ecliptic plane was defined

using the path of the Sun around the Earth.

† Image taken from http://www.herongyang.com/astrology_horoscope/ecliptic_plane

problem with no relativistic terms, I will not attempt to extend this proof

to the equations of motion that include these extra terms. In summary, we

do not actually know whether or not there is a solution to the problem that

we will be solving and if it does exist we do not know whether or not it is

unique.

We will therefore be solving the N-body problem numerically in order to

determine a given asteroid’s trajectory in space.

One of the physical models currently used in trajectory propagation includes

the mutual Newtonian gravitational accelerations and their relativistic cor-

rections, which is a modified form of the Einstein-Infeld-Hoffmann equation.

7

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

X µj (rj − ri ) 2(β + γ) X µk 2β − 1 X µk

r̈i = 3 1− −

j6=i

rij c2 r

k6=i ik

c2 k6=j rjk

2 2

vi vj 2(1 + γ)

+γ + (1 + γ) − ṙi · ṙj

c c c2

" #2

3 (ri − rj ) · ṙj 1

− 2 3 + 2 (rj − ri ) · r̈j (2.1)

2c rij 2c

1 X µj

+ 2 3 {[ri − rj ] · [(2 + 2γ)ṙi − (1 + 2γ)ṙj ]} (ṙi − ṙj )

c j6=i rij

(3 + 4γ) X µj r̈j

+ ,

2c2 j6=i rij

where ri , ṙi and r̈i are the solar-system-barycentric position, velocity and

acceleration vectors of body i, i.e. the positions and velocities of body i using

the center of mass of the solar system as the center of the reference frame.

This means that we are considering an inertial reference frame centered at

the center of mass of the solar system. The constant c is the speed of light,

µi = Gmi , where G is the gravitational constant and mi is the mass of body

i. Furthermore, rij = |rj − ri | is the distance between bodies i and j and

vi = |ṙi |. Finally, β and γ are PPN parameters measuring the nonlinearity

in superposition of gravity and the space curvature produced by unit rest

mass, respectively. In general relativity, β = γ = 1.

For the rest of this paper, the word relativistic will refer to considering

the relativistic terms in the equations of motion. In contrast, the word

Newtonian will be used when these terms are not included. In equation

(2.1), the relativistic terms are written in gray. They are all the terms in c12 .

Because acceleration terms appear both on the right and left hand side of

equation 2.1, this problem is implicit. In fact, if

r1

.

..

r

N

y= ,

ṙ1

..

.

ṙN

8

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

ṙ1

.

..

ṙ

y0 = N

r̈1

..

.

r̈N

is the vector containing velocities and accelerations and the N-body problem

can be formulated as

f (t, y, y 0 ) = 0 (2.2)

where we omit the time-dependency to simplify notation.

However, it is possible to exploit the structure of the equations of motion

in a more elegant manner by putting all the acceleration terms to the left

hand side of the equality sign. We then obtain:

where M is called the mass matrix and depends on the state vector y.

In contrast to the implicit problem (2.2), an explicit problem could be writ-

ten as

y 0 = f (t, y),

which is equivalent to (2.3) when we replace f (t, y) with M −1 f (t, y). Of

course, this requires an invertible mass matrix M . If the matrix is singular,

a different approach must be used. We will not be discussing this case fur-

ther in the context of this thesis.

In fact, when dealing with an implicit problem, one must solve an implicit

sub-problem at each time step, which is computationally expensive. For

this reason and for comparison purposes, we introduce slightly modified

equations:

X µj (rj − ri ) 2(β + γ) X µk 2β − 1 X µk

r̈i = 3 1− −

j6=i

rij c2 r

k6=i ik

c2 k6=j rjk

2 2

vi vj 2(1 + γ)

+γ + (1 + γ) − ṙi · ṙj

c c c2

" #2

3 (ri − rj ) · ṙj

− 2 3 (2.4)

2c rij

1 X µj

+ 2 3 {[ri − rj ] · [(2 + 2γ)ṙi − (1 + 2γ)ṙj ]} (ṙi − ṙj ),

c j6=i rij

9

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

where we simply omit the two terms in (2.1) where the acceleration r̈j ap-

pears. Again, the terms in gray refer to the relativistic corrections of general

relativity theory. This way, the N-body problem can be re-written as:

y 0 = f (t, y).

motion:

X µj (rj − ri )

r̈i = 3 . (2.5)

j6=i

rij

Now, in order to obtain the positions of each body at a given time t > t0 ,

we need to integrate the equations of motion.

In what follows, the N bodies considered will be the Sun, the 8 planets,

Pluto, the Earth’s Moon along with the asteroids Ceres, Pallas, Vesta and

the asteroid to be studied. Ceres, Pallas and Vesta are the most massive

asteroids in our solar system, accounting for about 46% of the total mass of

the asteroid belt. They are often referred to as the "Big 3". The asteroid

belt is illustrated in Figure 2.3.

Figure 2.3: The asteroid belt lies in the region between Mars and Jupiter. The

Trojan asteroids lie in Jupiter’s orbit, in two distinct regions in front of and behind

the planet.

† Image taken from https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/multimedia/display.cfm?IM_ID=850

obtain more accurate numerical results. Some of these forces are:

10

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

The Sun exerts electromagnetic radiation on the bodies in the solar

system. This radiation is then absorbed and/or reflected by the body

receiving the radiation which impacts this body’s motion. Solar radi-

ation pressure affects mostly small bodies.

• Drag:

Several types of drag can influence a celestial body’s trajectory. For

example, magnetic drag and air drag.

• Solar oblateness:

The Sun is not exactly spherical. Hence its gravitational field is not

entirely symmetric as it is modeled using point masses. In order to

correct for this, one needs to take into account the non-sphericality of

the Sun. This is also valid for every one of the celestial bodies, none

of which are perfectly spherical.

• Perturbations from the 300 most massive asteroids in the asteroid belt:

Just as the planets, Sun and moons attract bodies in space, massive

asteroids have a gravitational pull and therefore influence the trajec-

tories of bodies that pass at a certain distance of them.

a homogeneous ring:

The same argument as the previous one holds for the less massive

asteroids. However, as there is a very large number of these objects

that are relatively evenly spaced in the asteroid ring, we can imagine

a homogeneous asteroid ring that would account for the gravitational

pull of all these smaller asteroids combined.

A TNO is any minor planet in the solar system that orbits the Sun

with a greater semi-major axis than Neptune. As for the most mas-

sive asteroids, TNOs can be taken into account for a more precise

propagator.

neous ring:

Similar to the less massive asteroids in the asteroid belt.

Each one of these forces on its own accounts for a very weak gravitational

effect. However, taken together they would contribute to the accuracy of

the numerical solution. However, for the sake of asteroid deflection missions,

these terms are not necessary and therefore are not included in the model.

They are mainly of interest when building an extremely precise planetary

ephemeris propagator.

11

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

When dealing with geometric numerical integration, one usually tries to

write the problem at hand using the Hamiltonian formulation. This is a

mathematical formalism describing the equations of motion of a dynamic

system. Usually, the Hamiltonian H represents the total energy of the sys-

tem at hand, i.e.

H = T + V,

where T and V represent the kinetic and potentiel energy, respectively. More

generally, suppose that H(p, q) : R2d → R is a smooth function of its argu-

ments p, q ∈ Rd . Then the dynamical system t 7→ (p(t), q(t)) defined by the

equations

∂H(p(t),q(t))

ṗk (t) = −

∂qk

∂p k

and p refer to the generalized positions and momenta (or velocities) of the

system, respectively. Therefore, we can write the traditional state vector as

y = (p, q)T . With this, we can write the Hamiltonian equivalently as

ẏ = J −1 ∇H(y), with J = 0 Id

−Id 0 .

given problem and as it turns out, it seems extremely complicated to find

one for the problem that we will be considering because of the relativistic

terms included in the equations of motion. Furthermore, seeing as we want

to be able to modify the equations of motion by adding perturbing forces to

model deflection processes, it is better to not assume a Hamiltonian system,

allowing for more flexibility in the perturbing forces.

The reason why this Hamiltonian is so important for geometric numerical

integration and therefore the reason why mathematicians and engineers use

it whenever it is possible is because it has been found that by using this

formalism, some very nice results are true and can be used. These results

are linked to the notion of symplectic solvers.

A linear map A : R2d → R2d is said to be symplectic if

AT JA = J,

be symplectic if

T

g 0 (p, q) Jg 0 (p, q) = J ∀(p, q) ∈ U.

the numerical flow of a one-step method (see 2.2 for more about numerical

12

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

methods and the definition of one-step methods), i.e. y1 = Φh (y0 ), then the

method is said to be symplectic if

∂ΦTh ∂Φh

(y0 )J (y0 ) = J ∀y0 .

∂y0 ∂y0

It can be shown that symplectic solvers nearly preserve the Hamiltonian of a

system. Hence, when the Hamiltonian represents the total energy and when

using a symplectic solver, the numerical total energy is preserved just as it

is in the physical one (when conservation of energy applies). This is usually

a very attractive property.

ing forces that will be included in order to model the asteroid deflections

break the conservation of energy and in fact traditional Lagrangian and

Hamiltonian mechanics cannot be used with non-conservative systems. Note

that even if a Hamiltonian were available for the N-body problem, it would

almost certainly not be separable, i.e. it would not be possible to write

H = T (v) + U (r) where the kinetic energy T only depends on the velocities

and the potential energy U only depends on the positions. As a consequence,

it would not be possible to use an explicit method of integration, unless a

splitting is used. In a splitting, we write r̈ = (A + B)r where A is the

Hamiltonian part and B is whatever cannot be written in this formulation

(this can be seen as a perturbation from a Hamiltonian system). Then we

can use a symplectic method on A.

The equations of motion given in equation (2.1) are to be understood as a

perturbed version of the Newtonian equations of motion shown in equation

(2.5). The perturbations, which will often be referred to as the relativistic

terms, account for effects from general relativity. The Newtonian, or unper-

turbed equations come from Newton’s second law of motion F = ma and

his law of universal gravitation F = GM r2

m

. Below, we will give a short de-

scription of how the relativistic terms came to be included in the equations

of motion.

N-body problem from the variational principle of the Theory of General

Relativity, or GRT field equations, using the linearized mass tensor. We

will not give extensive details here. Instead, we refer the reader to [4] and

[17] for more details.

As a starting point, we need the GRT field equations, also known as the

Einstein Field Equations, or EFE. In fact, the basic idea of GRT is that

the properties of spacetime are determined by motion and distribution of

13

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

by the field metric. The EFE equation is:

1 8πG

Rµν − Rg µν + g µν Λ = 4 T µν , (2.6)

2 c

where Rµν is the Ricci curvature tensor, R is the scalar curvature, g µν the

metric tensor, Λ the cosmological constant (whose value is the energy den-

sity of the vacuum of space), c the speed of light, G Newton’s gravitational

constant and T µν the stress-energy-momentum tensor. The indices µ and ν

are the spacetime dimensions. They can each take 4 values: 0,1,2 or 3 where

0 represents time, 1 the x variable, 2 the y variable and 3 the z variable.

Note that the term g µν Λ is very small so it is almost always left out (it is

only useful when dealing with large cosmological scales).

These equations describe the fundamental interaction of gravitation as a

result of spacetime being curved by matter and energy. They are used to

determine the geometry of spacetime resulting from the presence of mass-

energy and linear momentum. The solutions of EFE, are the components of

the metric tensor g µν . Exact solutions for the EFE can only be determined

under simplifying assumptions such as symmetry.

The left hand side of the EFE refers to the curvature of spacetime while the

right hand side has to do with mass and energy. This is the basic idea of

GRT: the properties of spacetime, i.e. the spacetime metric are governed

by the motion and distribution of masses and, conversely, the motion and

distribution of masses are determined by the field metric. Hence the EFE

can be understood as follows:

Mass tells spacetime how to curve and curved spacetime tells mass how to

move.

Now, let

√

Z

Sg = −gRdΩ,

Using the variation of the Ricci tensor, the definition of the determinant g

and the definition of the Christoffel symbols, it can be shown that

1 √

Z

δSg = − Rµν − Rg µν −gδg µν dΩ. (2.7)

2

Notice that the inside of the parenthesis coincides with the left-hand side of

the EFE equation (2.6). Now consider the action integral

√

Z

Sm = ρ ∗ (c2 + Π) −gdΩ,

14

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

Π being the potential compressional energy. Using the variation of ρ∗, we

find

1 2 √

Z

δSm = c T µν −gδg µν dΩ (2.8)

2

Using (2.6) along with (2.7) and (2.8), we see that the EFE follow from the

variational equation

δ(2c−2 κSm − Sg ) = 0. (2.9)

c4

Multiplying (2.9) by 16πG , we can rewrite it as

Z " #

c4 √ ds

δ −gJ + c2 (1 + c−2 Π)ρ 0 dΩ = 0

16πG dx

Using the fact that dΩ = cdtd3 x is the elementary 4-volume, Infeld and

Plebansky [4] show that this principle can be re-written

Z

δ Ldt = 0

with Z " #

c4 √ ds

L=− −gJ + c2 (1 + c−2 Π)ρ 0 d3 x

16πG dx

to treat L as the Lagrangian of the post-Newtonian N-body problem. The

integral is to be understood as the sum of all the integrals taken over the

volumes of the bodies. After a few pages of math, one comes to the following

result, also known as the Einstein-Infeld-Hoffman, or EIH equation:

X 1 1 X mi mj 1 1 1 X mi mj

L= mi vi2 + G + 2 mi (vi2 )2 + G

i

2 2 j6=i rij c 8 4 j6=i rij

1 1 X mi mj (mi + mj )

× 3vi2 + 3vj2 − 7vi · vj − (vi rij )(vj rij ) 2 − G2 2

rij 4 j6=i

rij

1 X X 1 1 1

− G2 mi mj mk + + .

6 j6=i k6=i,j

rij rik rji rjk rki rkj

used this Lagrangian in order to derive the conservative PPN N-body La-

15

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

grangian [9]:

1X 1 X 1 + 2γ X X µi µj 2

L= µi vi2 + 2 µi (vi2 )2 + (vi + vj2 )

2 i 8c i 4c2 i j6=i

rij

3 + 4γ X X µi µj

− ṙi · ṙj (2.10)

4c2 i j6=i

rij

1 X X µi µ j 1 X X µ i µj

− 2 3 {(rj − ri ) · ṙj } {(rj − ri ) · ṙi } +

4c i j6=i rij 2 i j6=i rij

2β − 1 X X µi µj (µi + µj ) 2β − 1 X X X µi µj µk

− 2 − ,

4c2 i j6=i

rij 2c2 r r

i j6=i k6=j ij jk

This Lagrangian will in turn yield the equations of motion given in (2.1).

In numerical integration of dynamical systems, we look for the solution y(t)

to problems of the form

(

y 0 (t) = f (t, y(t))

y(0) = y0

as Initial Value Problems, or IVPs because of the necessity of providing the

initial conditions, or initial values, y0 .

Given this problem and a time step h ≥ 0, the fundamental theorem of

calculus reads:

Z t0 +h

y(t0 + h) = y(t0 ) + f (τ, y(τ ))dτ.

t0

the solution at the end time t0 + h.

The solution at time t given the initial conditions y0 is denoted

y(t, 0, y0 ) = φt (y0 ),

and is called the exact flow of the problem. Similarly, the numerical flow is

Φh (y0 ) with h the time step.

Considering the nature of the problem and its solution, geometric integra-

tion is most appropriate. In fact, geometric integration deals with integra-

tors that preserve some geometric properties of the exact solution. In fact,

16

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

some cases, these properties are fundamental and therefore it is desirable to

obtain a numerical method that preserves them. However, not all problems

have these inherent properties. It is therefore important to understand the

physics of the system modeled in order to know whether or not we want

the numerical scheme to preserve certain properties. Often, we look at re-

versibility, symplecticity and conservation of first integrals. These can be

mathematically formulated as follows:

• Reversibility:

Φ−h (Φh (y0 )) = y0 ,

i.e. we should be able to go forward in time with a step size h and

then back to where we started (with a step size −h) and arrive exactly

where we started.

• Symplecticity:

∂ΦTh ∂Φh

(y0 )J (y0 ) = J ∀y0 .

∂y0 ∂y0

It is difficult to give a geometric or physical explanation of this prop-

erty without introducing manifolds and symplectic geometry. For this

reason, we will simply say that it is a mathematical property of nu-

merical integrators that can be used in simple classical mechanics.

I(y1 ) = I(y0 )

d

are characterized by the simple equation dt I(y(t)) = 0, meaning that

I is constant along the trajectory y(t).

It turns out that the preservation of these properties makes for a favorable

long-term behavior.

However, implementing solvers that preserve symplecticity, for example, re-

duces the flexibility in equations of motion, as discussed in Section 2.1.2.

In the context of this thesis, it is important to introduce the concept of

keyholes. Keyholes are defined as specific regions in space with a very par-

ticular property. In fact, if an object were to pass through a keyhole, it

would eventually collide with Earth. The smallest keyholes are less than

1 kilometer in diameter and the largest ones are about 1000 kilometers in

diameter. This is the reason behind the need for the high accuracy of the

propagator stated, as stated in Section 1. If we want to know whether or

17

SECTION 2. PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL BACKGROUND

known with an error less than 1000 kilometers (assuming a large keyhole),

which is quite a small distance in astronomical terms.

Furthermore, since we would like to be able to study slow push methods

of deflection, the timespan of the numerical integration needs to be long

enough (at least 10 years which is about the time necessary to complete

slow push methods).

We remark that the only accuracy requirement that remains when all exter-

nal sources of uncertainty are removed is that of the size of a keyhole. This

means that, assuming no propagation or measurement errors, it should be

possible to avoid an asteroid passing through a keyhole by deflecting it as

much as the diameter of the keyhole. For example, Apophis’ 2036 keyhole

is approximately 700 meters in size and therefore a 1 kilometer deflection

would move Apophis (whose diameter is about 325 meters) completely out

of this keyhole.

18

Section 3

Asteroid Trajectories Tool

State University’s Bong Wie indicate such a vehicle could blast apart asteroids

that threaten Earth.

† Image taken from http://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2013/03/06/asteroiddeflection

possible propagators.

For this reason, we build a new propagator, PAT2 (pronounced pat squared)

using MATLAB. Similarly to other propagators, PAT2 requires the user to

input a time span as well as initial positions and velocities of the bodies

19

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

of all these objects at any time in the specified timespan. The flow chart

illustrating the inner working of PAT2 is shown in Figure 3.2, where the

arrows show the direction of flow between the pink ellipses representing the

input data, the green rectangles the processes and the purple ellipses the

output data. The timespan and initial conditions are necessary inputs. All

other inputs have default values but can be easily modified, if necessary.

The mathematical and physical foundation for PAT2 is that described in

Section 2.1.1, with the equations of motion including all relativistic terms.

The bodies included in the model are the Sun, the 8 planets, Pluto, the

Moon, the Big 3 (Ceres, Pallas and Vesta) as well as the asteroid whose

trajectory we would like to study. Note that the initial conditions can be

taken to be the positions and velocities of the barycenters of each body

rather than the body centers (except for planet Earth because its moon is

explicitly included in the model). For bodies with no moons, this will not

change anything. However, for planets such as Jupiter, who has 50 moons or

Saturn who has 53 moons, there will be a difference between the barycenter

of the planet-moon system and the center of the planet. Considering these

barycenters instead of the body centers can somehow compensate for the

fact that the moons are not included in the physical model. Note that if we

consider the barycenter of a planet-moon system, we must adapt the mass,

i.e. if we want to model the Jupiter-moons system, we must use the total

mass of the system which is the sum of the planet and its moons.

In contrast to most propagators out there, PAT2 only uses data for initial

conditions and treats all bodies the same way. In fact, most of the other

asteroid propagators available only propagate the trajectory of one single

body, the asteroid. The positions and velocities of all other bodies in the

model are queried from a previously generated ephemeris. The reason for

going with the first philosophy (of propagating all bodies rather than just the

asteroid) is simple: in the latter situation, each time step requires a query

from an ephemeris file. This requires access to such a file. Moreover, the

code must be modifiable in order to include perturbing forces, e.g. kinetic

impactors or slow push methods and therefore the equations of motion must

be available and they must be easy to modify.

Of course, choosing to propagate 15 bodies instead of just 1 will make for a

considerably longer runtime. However, as long as runtime stays reasonably

short when propagating the 15 bodies, this method is acceptable.

Note that is it also possible to modify the PPN parameters β and γ . As a

reminder, β and γ measure the nonlinearity in superposition of gravity and

20

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

Initialize

model

Numerical

integration

Output

Asteroid Total

vectors error energy

Figure 3.2: Flow chart describing the inner workings of PAT2 . The pink ellipses

represent the input data, the green rectangles the processes and the purple ellipses

the output data. The arrows show the direction of flow. The timespan and initial

conditions are necessary inputs. All other inputs have default values but can be

easily modified.

21

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

Maximum Minimum

Positions 4.8 · 109 8.1 · 103

Velocities 3.7 · 101 2.4 · 10−4

Table 3.1: Maximal and minimal (absolute) values for the positions, velocities and

accelerations using units of seconds for time and kilometers for distances. Using

these values will lead to significant roundoff errors.

Maximum Minimum

Positions 4.8 · 104 8.1 · 10−2

Velocities 1.2 · 104 7.6 · 10−2

Table 3.2: Maximal and minimal (absolute) values for the positions, velocities and

accelerations using units of sidereal years for time and hundred thousand kilometers

(105 km) for distances. Using these values significantly reduces roundoff errors and

enables meaningful values of tolerances.

relativity, β = γ = 1. Modifying these values allows exploring different

relativity theories.

3.2 Rescaling

Once the user has supplied the initial conditions, PAT2 rescales the problem

so as to avoid the unwanted effects of roundoff error and to ensure that all

variables are at the same scale. In fact, the N-body problem considered here

with its usual units of time (seconds) and distance (kilometers) is prone to

a lot of numerical noise. For example, when computing the first term of

(2.1) which is proportional to r13 with r = O(108 ) we come below machine

precision and therefore introduce unnecessary numerical errors. Of course,

this will depend on the machine on which the simulation is run and on the

language used. With a 64 bit machine (MacBook Pro, Intel Core i5) and a 64

bit double precision language (MATLAB R2014a), the machine precision is

≈ 2.2·10−16 . As a reminder, machine precision is the smallest value , such

that 1 + and 1 have different floating point representations. Computing

with values smaller than causes a lot of unwanted and avoidable errors.

Note that a way of overcoming this issue could be to use another language,

such as FORTRAN that uses 128 bit representation. However, we will chose

to stay with MATLAB and rescale the problem.

The units chosen for the rescaling are sidereal years for time and hundreds

of thousand kilometers (105 ) for distances. This way, we avoid unnecessary

roundoff errors. Furthermore, by doing this we obtain positions, velocities

22

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

(and accelerations) that are of the same scale, which is a desirable property

when assigning tolerances to the numerical method. In fact, the variables

in this problem are of significantly different scales, as shown in Tables 3.1

and 3.2.

Now, with the problem rescaled, PAT2 calls the MATLAB function ode113.

This is a built-in function aimed at solving non-stiff differential equations.

It is a variable step size and variable order method, with orders ranging

from 1 to 13. ode113 was designed for problems with stringent error tol-

erances and for solving computationally intensive problems. It is based on

a variable order Adams-Bashforth-Moulton (or ABM) solver. This solver is

a predictor-corrector method based with PECE (Predict-Evaluate-Correct-

Evaluate) implementation. ABM methods are, as are all numerical inte-

gration methods, based on the fundamental theorem of calculus. Given a

problem

y 0 (t) = f (t, y(t)),

and points t0 , t1 , . . . , tk , tk+1 , we have

Z tk+1

y(tk+1 ) = y(tk ) + f (τ, y(τ ))dτ, k ∈ N.

tk

ABM methods use a number of previous points (tk−s , fk−s ),...,(tk−1 , fk−1 ),

(tk , fk ) to construct the Lagrange polynomial approximation p(t, y(t)) of

f (t, y(t)) passing through these points. Then

Z tk+1

y(tk+1 ) ≈ y(tk ) + p(τ, y(τ ))dτ, k ∈ N.

tk

This method, known as the Adams-Bashfourth method (AB), is explicit

since all the pairs (tk−s , fk−s ),...,(tk , fk ) are known at time tk .

(AB) produces the predictor formula

Z tk+1

pk+1 = yk + p(τ, y(τ ))dτ

tk

that can be used for a rough estimate (tk+1 , pk+1 ) of (tk+1 , y(tk+1 )).

We can now do the same thing and construct a Lagrange polynomial approx-

imation of f , this time using the unknown point (tk+1 , fk+1 ). This yields

an implicit method known as the Adams-Moulton method (AM) which pro-

duces the corrector formula. Since it is an implicit method, it requires several

iterations. The value of the corrector pk+1 is used as the initial guess for

yk+1 . The corrector formula should give a more accurate approximation to

23

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

Solver

ode45 ode113

10−4 12’692 6’779

Tolerance

10−5 16’226 8’667

10−6 21’224 10’830

10−7 34’544 13’179

level. Here, we consider the barycenter model used to propagate the positions of

the asteroid Apophis.

by comparing the two, predictor and corrector, we can determine if the step

size should be increased or decreased.

preceding time points in order to compute the next solution. In contrast, a

one-step method only needs the previous solution in order to compute the

next. This is the case for Runge-Kutta methods, for example. Because ABM

is a multistep method, it requires the knowledge of several steps before it

can begin. These first steps typically are taken using one-step methods such

as Runge-Kutta.

The method presented here is not symplectic. The reason for not chos-

ing such a solver has been explained previously. Here, we remind the main

reason of this choice. As a reminder, the ultimate goal will be to have a

propagator that can be used in deflection missions and therefore some per-

turbing forces will be included in the equations of motions. These perturbing

forces will only be applied during a certain timespan, shorter than the in-

tegration timespan. The entire concept of deflection missions is based on

modifying the energy of a potentially hazardous asteroid in order to change

its trajectory, and hence we are not looking to conserve the total energy of

the system.

obtained using ode45 (which is based on a Runge-Kutta method). The idea

is that the error is controlled in the numerical schemes through the choice of

tolerances. Therefore, the results obtained with ode113 or ode45 (or another

method) for a given tolerance should be almost the same. As a reminder, a

tolerance of 10−3 corresponds to 0.1% error. Similarly, a tolerance of 10−6

24

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

10−3 ? ? ?

10−4 310.0709 - 8.5

Tolerance

10−6 272.4092 0.7303 11.3

10−7 272.4018 0.0074 15.5

10−8 272.4020 −2 · 10−4 20.5

Table 3.4: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the last

time step. Here, we consider the asteroid Apophis during the timespan 2014-2024.

Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that obtained

with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding the

marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance. The star symbol ? indicates that the

solver crashes given the specified tolerance.

For stable systems, if we control the error in each time step, we effectively

control the global error. In fact, for stable systems, the global error is

proportional to the per-unit-step error and therefore we can control the

global error by controlling the per-unit-step error. This however is not true

with unstable systems. In fact, when simulating an analytically unstable

system, it can no longer be assumed that the global integration error is

proportional to the per-unit-step integration error, since integration error

can accumulate excessively across multiple steps.

The difference in performance between two solvers will therefore be in how

efficient it is, i.e. how many times it needs to evaluate the equations of

motion. This in turn reflects how much runtime will be needed. Table

3.3 shows the total number of function evaluations for ode113 and ode45

given certain tolerances. We first notice that for both ode45 and ode113,

a smaller tolerance requires a higher number of function evaluations, as

expected. Moreover, the number of function evaluations, given a certain

tolerance, is always higher for ode45. This means that ode113 is more

efficient in obtaining similar results. Another way to look at it, is that

for a given number of function evaluations, ode113 will produce a solution

corresponding to one obtained with ode45 with a tolerance of at least two

to three orders of magnitude bigger.

obtain better numerical results. Table 3.4 shows the numerical errors ob-

tained in the last time step using ode113 with different tolerance levels.

25

SECTION 3. PAT2 : PROPAGATOR FOR ASTEROID

TRAJECTORIES TOOL

The star symbol (?) that appreas in the first line of the table indicates that

the numerical scheme crashes given the tolerance of 10−3 . What happens is

that given a large tolerance, the solver produces numerical errors that are

relatively large. As the problem is unstable, these errors increase drastically

and therefore it is no longer possible for the solver to achieve desired accu-

racy without going below the allowed minimum step size. Therefore and the

scheme stops. Besides this phenomenon, we observe that when going from

a tolerance of 10−4 to 10−5 , i.e. increasing the accuracy, there is almost

a 40 kilometer improvement on the error in the last step. We notice that

this improvement dampens as tolerance is decreased more, suggesting that

the problem with this formulation and solver has a lower bound on error.

Note that there are different error metrics that can be considered. Here,

we chose to study the error in a given point (the last point). However, we

might be interested in comparing the "worst" or highest error that occurs

during the 10 year timespan. For the study of deflection, this metric makes

sense because of the ultimate goal to keep the error under a 1000 kilometer

threshold. Another error metric could be the integral of the error over the

entire integration. Then, by dividing by the timespan, we obtain an average

of the error. We will not explore this metric further.

3.4 Output

Once the integration is complete, PAT2 brings the results back to their

initial scales of seconds for time and kilometers for distances. If a timespan

is specified as [t0 , t1 , . . . , tn ], then the output of the numerical integration

will be the state vector evaluated in these n points. Otherwise, if only an

initial and final time t0 and tf are specified, then the solver will return a

structure which can be evaluated at any time between t0 and tf . In Appendix

A, we will briefly discuss polynomial interpolation that is used in order to

obtain solutions at any point in the timespan and the errors that occur as

a consequence.

Simple flags allow the user to make plots for the outputted trajectories, the

numerical errors and the energy.

26

Section 4

Benchmark comparisons

Figure 4.1: Artist’s conception of a catastrophic asteroid impact with the early

Earth.

† Image taken from http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/news/display.cfm?News_ID=23777

asteroid propagators and compare the results that they produce in order to

choose the solution that is most appropriate for our study.

As stated previously, there exist some ready to use propagators. Some ex-

amples are JPL’s HORIZONS, NASA’s GMAT (General Mission Analysis

27

SECTION 4. BENCHMARK COMPARISONS

Initialize

Init. state vector Timespan

model

Numerical

integration

ephemeris

Planetary

Output

Asteroid

state

vector

Figure 4.2: Flow chart describing the inner workings of HORIZONS (and many

other available propagators). The pink ellipses represent the input data, the green

rectangles the processes, the orange cylinder the required database and the purple

ellipses the output data. The arrows show the direction of flow

HORIZONS is an online solar system ephemeris computation service that

provides highly accurate ephemerides for solar system objects such as plan-

ets, asteroids, comets and satellites. Uncertainties in major planet ephemerides

in HORIZONS range from 10 centimeters to over 100 kilometers.The avail-

able timespan in HORIZONS differs from body to body, but in general

is quite large. Using its web-interface, one can specify the body whose

ephemeris is of interest as well as the coordinate origin, the time span of

the ephemeris and the units to be used. Unfortunately, the source code for

HORIZONS is proprietary and therefore it is impossible to see or modify

it. Hence it is not possible to model defleciton mission with this tool. The

flow chart illustrating the inner workings of HORIZONS is shown in Figure

4.2, where the arrows show the direction of flow between the pink ellipses

represent the input data, the green rectangles are the processes, the orange

cylinder the required database and the purple ellipses the output data.

GMAT is a more general tool that can be used for planning any space

mission. It is intended for mission optimization and mission analysis. By

modelling the asteroid whose trajectory we want to study as a satellite, we

can use GMAT to propagate its trajectory given initial positions and ve-

locities. GMAT uses data from JPL’s ephemerides for all the other bodies

28

SECTION 4. BENCHMARK COMPARISONS

considered in the model, i.e. it only propagates the position of the "satel-

lite". This makes for a fast-running propagator. GMAT is an open-source

system, allowing for a personalization of the software. GMAT has a user

interface that allows the user to select the desired coordinate system, initial

conditions, time span, force model and integrator.

and satellites. It allows the user to visualize dynamic datasets in four di-

mensions (space and time). It has a component called "Astrogator" that

allows analysis in deep space. However, STK was built for missions close to

Earth. As a consequence, its deep space capabilities are far from being its

strong suit. As with HORIZONS, STK does not share its source code so no

user modifications are possible.

As real data (positions and velocities) for solar system bodies is hard to

obtain, we will be using HORIZONS as a reference and comparing all other

results from other propagators to the data generated by this system. Hence

HORIZONS data will, from now on, be considered as the truth.

In order to get an idea of the quality of each propagator, including PAT2 , we

will compare the propagated trajectories of a given asteroid, Apophis, over

the 10 year time span (Januray 1st 2014 to Januray 1st 2024). Note that the

close approach in 2029 is not included in this timespan. We mention this

fact because close approaches make for bigger numerical errors. In fact, a

close approach means a fast increase in acceleration which can be missed by

the numerical integration. However, if we are aware that a close approach

will happen during the numerical integration timespan, a tighter tolerance

could help in avoiding bad results. Note that this is not a property exclu-

sive to PAT2 . In fact, any numerical results obtained with an integrator not

specifically designed and built with fast changes in acceleration in mind (see

Appendix A) will suffer during close approaches. It is therefore important

to be aware of this issue and chose the appropriate tolerances.

and the initial positions and velocities needed will be taken from the same

database. Note that HORIZONS is updated regularly and so initial condi-

tions queried from this system at different times may be different. As the

N-body problem is chaotic, these small changes in initial conditions may

have a big impact on the propagated trajectories.

Realistically, only GMAT would be an actual propagator candidate for the

study of deflection missions as it is the only one of the studied solutions

whose code is open source.

29

SECTION 4. BENCHMARK COMPARISONS

HORIZONS instantaneous -

GMAT a few seconds ≈ 5.4 · 106

PAT2 8.5 min. ≈ 310

The results obtained for the benchmarking problem using GMAT are shown

in Table 4.1 (section 5 provide more information on the definition of numer-

ical error). The results for STK are not shown here as obtaining meaningful

results seemed to be infeasible. In fact, it seems that STK uses an Earth-

centered coordinate system even when specified otherwise. Again, STK was

not built for deep space mission and therefore its use for analysis beyond

Earth is quite tricky. As this is not a viable solution for asteroid deflection

missions anyway, we will not be pursuing it any further in this context. A

similar remark can be made for GMAT. We believe that it is possible to

obtain better results using this tool. However, we were not able to do so

within a reasonable time frame and amount of work. In fact, in [19], the

authors claim to obtain 1500 kilometer errors with GMAT (and 8000 kilo-

meter errors within STK). However, with no details on the initial conditions

used, and the precise trajectories to which the output is compared to, it is

hard to reproduce similar results.

Again, if there were a close approach during the simulated timespan, the

errors would be bigger. As the ultimate goal is to have as small an error

as possible, we will not be using GMAT. Instead, PAT2 will be used for the

case studies in Section 5.

30

Section 5

Case Studies

Figure 5.1: Artist’s conception shows how families of asteroids are created. Over

the history of our solar system, catastrophic collisions between asteroids located in

the belt between Mars and Jupiter have formed families of objects on similar orbits

around the sun.

† Image taken from http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA17016

Now that the propagator PAT2 has been chosen, we will take a closer look

at the results obtained using it.

To do so, we will be taking a closer look at five different asteroids. These are

Apophis, Icarus, 2007 FT3, 2009 VZ39 and 2008 FF5 whose orbits are shown

in Figure 5.2. The last three of these have been picked from NASA’s Sentry

table [25] which lists the bodies with potential future Earth impact events.

Note that not all of the bodies on this list have diameters big enough for

them to enter Earth’s atmosphere and therefore they are not all hazardous

to us. The asteroids mentioned above are chosen because of the differences

31

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.2: Orbits of the asteroids considered for the case studies. These asteroids

are: Apophis, Icarus, 2007 FT3, 2009 VZ39 and 2008 FF5.

to the ecliptic plane and size (which itself is related to mass). In fact, we

want to evaluate how PAT2 behaves with respect to different values in these

parameters in order to assess if it can be used on any asteroid and if some

types of asteroid parameters yield better numerical results.

The timespan studied here will be from January 1st 2014 to Januray 1st

2024, corresponding to 3652 Earth days.

Note that given the physical model and variables used in PAT2 , we are able

to study the trajectory of any of the objects considered i.e. the Sun. the 8

planets, Pluto and the Big 3. However, we will focus on that of the asteroids

because of the end goal of this thesis.

In this section as well, HORIZONS data will be considered as the truth.

Hence, from now on, the real positions and velocities will refer to those

queried from HORIZONS.

We suspect that bodies on orbits with small eccentricities will have bet-

ter results than those with high eccentricities, the key idea being that a

high eccentricity makes for big and fast changes in acceleration along the

trajectories which can be missed by the numerical integrator. We might also

suspect that high inclinations influence the accuracy of the solution.

32

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

and final integration times respectively, rApo (tk ) is Apophis’ true position

(i.e. taken from HORIZONS) at time tk and r̃Apo (tk ) is the corresponding

numerical solution obtained with PAT2 , then the numerical error at time tk

(at output) is defined as

Equivalent definitions will be used for the other asteroids studied here.

control, the error (in each component, not the one defined above) at each

time step is computed. The idea is that for stable systems, controlling

the local error (error at each time step), we control the global error. In

fact, the local error is proportional to the global error for stable systems.

However, this is no longer true for unstable systems. This means that if

we have a stable system, we can check that the global error is consistent

with the prescribed tolerance. This cannot be done with unstable systems.

Nevertheless, error control is still important for unstable problems as we

know that small errors can explode.

5.1 Apophis

As stated previously, Apophis was put in the spotlight because of initial

observations and computations that indicated a high probability (around

2.7%) that it would collide with Earth. This lead to a big number of scientific

publications focusing on this asteroid. For this reason, Apophis will be the

object of our first case study.

325 m 3.9 · 1010 kg 0.89 years 0.922 AU 3.3 deg 0.191

that its diameter of 325 meters would allow Apophis to survive entering

Earth’s atmosphere. According to Table 1.1, if a collision with Earth were to

occur, we could expect a large sub-global event causing around 500 thousand

33

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.3: Orbit of Apophis during the timespan 2014-2024 (data taken from

HORIZONS).

orbit lies almost in the plane of the ecliptic along with the rest of the planets,

including Earth.

Apophis’ orbit is shown in Figure 5.3. We see that this orbit lies almost

in the ecliptic plane (which coincides with the xy plane).

(Januray 1st 2014-Januray 1st 2024) using an initial state vector extracted

from HORIZONS. The barycentric model is used here, i.e. for bodies with

moons (except Earth because its moon is explicitly included in the model)

we will consider the barycenters of the planet-moon systems, rather than

the body centers.

In Table 5.2, we compare the numerical errors in the last time step given

successively decreasing tolerances along with the marginal improvements

and associated runtimes. As explained in Section 3.3, the star symbol ?

indicates that the solver crashes given the tolerance of 10−3 due to the in-

herent instability of the N-body problem. Therefore, it is required to use a

tolerance smaller than 10−3 in order to solve this problem.

We expect to see a decreasing numerical error and an increasing runtime as

the tolerance is reduced. This is a typical tradeoff between accuracy and

runtime. In Table 5.2, we can see that by choosing a tolerance of 10−5 in-

34

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

10−3 ? ? ?

10−4

Tolerance

310.0709 - 8.5

10−5 273.1395 36.9314 10.5

10−6 272.4092 0.7303 11.3

10−7 272.4018 0.0074 15.5

10−8 272.4020 −2 · 10−4 20.5

Table 5.2: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the last

time step. Here, we consider the asteroid Apophis during the timespan 2014-2024.

Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that obtained

with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding the

marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance. The star symbol ? indicates that the

solver crashes given the specified tolerance

Figure 5.4: Numerical error in the position of Apophis during the timespan 2014-

2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data. The numerical error

is defined as eApo = kr̃Apo − rApo k where rApo is the true position and r̃Apo is the

numerical position of the asteroid. When rApo − r̃Apo is negative, we inverse eApo

so as to see the oscillatory behavior.

35

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.5: Numerical error in the position of Apophis during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data.

to the real solution in the last time step. Furthermore, we see that the run-

time is increased from 8.5 minutes to 10.5 minutes. We also notice that the

marginal improvement when going from a tolerance of 10−5 to 10−6 is very

small. However, the increase in runtime is not. This is a very poor tradeoff.

Given the results in this table, the tolerance 10−5 is preferred for Apophis

and we will therefore use this tolerance in the study of its trajectories.

shown in Figure 5.4, with time on the x axis and the error on the y axis. As

a reminder, the numerical error is defined as eApo = kr̃Apo −rApo k where rApo

is the true position and r̃Apo is the numerical position of the asteroid. When

r̃Apo − rApo is negative, we change the sign of eApo so as to see the oscillatory

behavior of the error. If we do not do this, all values of eApo are positive.

This oscillatory behavior suggests that there is something lacking in the

physical model - some additional gravitational term that is not included.

Interestingly, other studies and comparisons of asteroid propagators yield

similar oscillatory errors (e.g. [19]), suggesting that this is not an error

in PAT2 ’s code but rather in the physical description of the problem or

the equations of motion. None of the papers that present oscillatory errors

comment on this phenomenon.

A few more remarks about the error can be made here. First, the period of

36

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

10−4 1.505143·103 - 0.4

10−5 1.499333·103

Tolerance

5.8 0.5

10−6 1.498301·103 1.03 0.5

10−7 1.498274·103 2.7·10−2 0.7

10−8 1.498274·103 ≈0 0.9

Table 5.3: Numerical error in the position of Apophis using the Newtonian equa-

tions of motion (2.5).

oscillation is equal to the orbital period of the asteroid (0.89 Earth years).

Furthermore, the error seems to grow initially and then dampens after 10

years. A discussion with JPL’s Paul Chodas about this result concluded that

just as gravity pulls bodies together, it can also pull bodies apart. Therefore

it is possible for the errors to compensate for each other as it seems to be the

case here. However, we note that during most of the 10 years, the amplitude

of the error remains somewhat stable.

Figure 5.5 illustrates the numerical error in the position of Apophis, this

time decomposed into the x, y and z components. We observe that the

contribution from the z component is significantly smaller than that for the

two others. This is not a surprise as the orbit in question lies almost entirely

in the ecliptic plane (xy plane). Moreover, we notice that the x and y error

contributions have similar shapes. However, the error in the x component

drifts upward (i.e. increases). The maximal error over the 10 year timespan

is less than 500 kilometers which is small enough to study keyhole passages

and deflection missions.

For the sake of comparison, and in order to evaluate the impact of the

relativistic terms in equation (2.1), we propagate Apophis’ trajectory using

the Newtonian equations of motion (2.5). The numerical errors for different

tolerances are shown in Table 5.3 along with the marginal improvements

and associated runtimes. By comparing these results to those of Table 5.2,

we notice that the relativistic equations yield more precise trajectories, as

desired. For example, given a tolerance of 10−4 , the Newtonian equations of

motion yield an error in the last time step of 1.5·103 kilometers whereas the

relativistic version yields an error of about 310 kilometers, which is about 5

times smaller. However, the Newtonian equations, which are explicit, make

for significantly shorter runtimes.

37

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.6: Normalized simulated total energy of each body in the model as well

as that for the solar system as a whole. The normalization allows us to understand

how the total energy varies around its mean value.

38

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.7: Ratio of the simulated potential over kinetic energy for each body in

the model as well as the solar system as a whole.

39

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.8: Normalized total energy of each body in the model as well as that for

the solar system as a whole using data from HORIZONS. The normalization allows

us to understand how the total energy varies around its mean value.

40

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.9: Ratio of the potential over kinetic energy for each body in the model

as well as the solar system as a whole using HORIZONS data.

41

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

objects is that of energy. Figure 5.6 shows the normalized total (simulated)

energy of each body in the model as well as that for the entire solar sys-

tem, as a function of time. We decided to show values normalized by the

mean so as to illustrate the variation around the mean rather than the ac-

tual value. This is a simple post-processing exercise that can be done using

the outputted numerical positions and velocities. Ideally, we would like to

see a regular oscillation around a given value, indicating that the numerical

mechanical energy is approximately conserved. We check this because it is

well known that when solving the Kepler problem using the Euler Explicit

scheme, the trajectories spiral out (increase) while they spiral in (decrease)

when using the Euler Implicit scheme. These results were the reason for

developing the Euler Symplectic method, for which the trajectories neither

increase nor decrease.

For bodies such as Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto whose orbital peri-

ods are greater than 10 years (29 years for Saturn, 84 for Uranus, 165 for

Neptune and 247 for Pluto), a longer integration timespan could yield more

information. In fact, even if Uranus’ energy seems to be decreasing over a

10 year timespan, it may very well increase later on, once it has covered a

greater portion of its orbit. Hence if we are interested in studying the energy

of the outer solar system specifically, we could use a longer time span.

Figure 5.7 shows the ratio of potential over kinetic energy for each body

and for the solar system as a whole. For a perfectly circular orbit, we would

expect this ratio to be constant in time. However, due to eccentricities of

the orbits, there is an exchange between potential and kinetic energy which

translates to an oscillatory ratio, as seen in the figure.

For the sake of comparison, Figure 5.8 shows the normalized energy

obtained from HORIZONS data. The same timespan is used, i.e. Januray

1st 2014 to January 1st 2024. The desired oscillatory behavior is present for

the outer solar system bodies. However, it is not the case for the inner solar

system bodies, which also happen to be the smaller bodies. As stated in

Appendix A, there is more to the energy in the solar system than mechanical

energy. We also notice that the last four bodies (the Big3 and the Moon)

have relatively high variations, compared to the others. We should also note

that we are computing the energies for every day. By using a finer mesh, we

would see a more precise depiction of the evolution of the energy.

As stated previously, given the way PAT2 is designed, we have the pos-

sibility to study the positions (and velocities) of all of the bodies considered

in the model, not only the asteroid. Figures 5.10, 5.11, 5.12 and 5.13 il-

lustrate the numerical errors in the positions of the Sun and Jupiter both

in norm and component-wise. These two bodies are always very important

when modelling the solar system as they are extremely massive and there-

fore have a great influence on the other celestial bodies. The same graphs

42

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.10: Numerical error in the position of the Sun during the timespan 2014-

2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.11: Numerical error in the position of the Sun during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data.

43

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.12: Numerical error in the position of Jupiter during the timespan 2014-

2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data. Since Jupiter’s orbital

period is greater than 10 years, we might get more information by using a longer

timespan.

Figure 5.13: Numerical error in the position of Jupiter during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data. Since Jupiter’s orbital period is greater than 10 years, we might get more

information by using a longer timespan.

44

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.14: Numerical error in the position of Mercury during the timespan

2014-2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.15: Numerical error in the position of Mercury during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data.

45

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.16: Numerical error in the position of Venus during the timespan 2014-

2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.17: Numerical error in the position of Venus during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data.

46

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

can be made for any of the 15 bodies considered. We notice that in both

cases, the x component of the error contributes more to the overall error

compared to the y and z components and this remark can be made for all

of the bodies in the model. As we are only studying a 10 year timespan, it

is interesting to do a similar analysis for bodies with shorter orbital periods.

We choose Mercury and Venus because they have the shortest orbital peri-

ods (88 days and 225 days, respectively) and therefore they orbit the Sun

a greater number of times compared to all the other bodies. Figures 5.14,

5.15, 5.16 and 5.17, give the numerical errors of Mercury and Venus both in

norm and component-wise. Again, for both these bodies, the x component

of the error dominates. We also notice a modulation of Mercury’s error,

which can again be associated with the fact that gravity not only pulls but

also pushes and therefore some errors might compensate for each other. Fi-

nally, Figure 5.15 is a great illustration of the instability of the problem, i.e.

how a small error in the state vector (after about 2500 days) can result in a

much greater error for future times.

5.2 Icarus

We will now consider the asteroid Icarus for our second case study. This

asteroid is chosen because it has a high eccentricity (0.8369) and a high

inclination with respect to the ecliptic plane (22.68 degrees). One of the

most important properties of a celestial body is its eccentricity. In terms

of numerical integration, a high eccentricity means that there will be fast

changes in the acceleration during each one of its orbits. If the integrator

does not catch these changes, the results can be very wrong. As a reminder,

an orbit with eccentricity e = 0 is circular. When 0 < e < 1 we have

an ellipse, when e = 1 a parabola and when e > 1 we have a hyperbola.

Furthermore, Icarus’ orbit crosses that of the Earth, reinforcing the interest

of its study.

A similar analysis to that for Apophis will be done for Icarus using PAT2 .

1.4 km 1012 kg 1.12 years 1.078 AU 22.86 deg 0.8369

Table 5.4: Some of asteroid Icarus’ relevant physical data ([23], [24]).

In Table 5.5, we compare the numerical errors in the last time step given

successively decreasing tolerances. Marginal improvements and runtimes are

also shown. Given the results in this table, the tolerance 10−9 is preferred.

47

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

10−6 9.3369 · 103 - 13.1

10−7 8.5117 · 103

Tolerance

704.2484 15.7

10−8 269.4207 555.7565 19.7

10−9 241.2383 28.1824 23.2

10−10 231.1155 10.1228 27.4

Table 5.5: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the last

time step. Here, we consider the asteroid Icarus during the timespan 2014-2024.

Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that obtained

with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding the

marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance.

Figure 5.18: Orbit of Icarus during the timespan 2014-2024 (data taken from

HORIZONS).

48

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.19: Numerical error in the position of Icarus during the timespan 2014-

2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

For the sake of comparison, we note that for Apophis, we chose a tolerance

of 10−6 and in fact, Apophis’ orbit is less eccentric than that of Icarus (0.191

for Apophis vs. 0.8369 for Icarus).

A few remarks can be made here. First, the error, as for Apophis, is peri-

odic. In fact, approximately every 408 days, there is a peak in the numerical

error and 408 days is the orbital period of Icarus. Second, the maximal error

adter 10 years is about 600 kilometers, which is below the target value of

1000 kilometers.

Figure 5.20 shows that the biggest errors (in black) happen when the as-

teroid is at perihelion, i.e. where it is closest to the Sun. This is because

at perihelion, the asteroid as a much greater acceleration than at any other

point on the orbit. Therefore, when approaching perihelion, the acceleration

increases quickly. Therefore the high eccentricity of this orbit is responsible

for the peeks in the numerical error. The points in blue in Figure 5.20 are

the points where the numerical error passes through the y = 0 line, i.e. when

the error is zero. We can see that this happens at aphelion, i.e. when the

asteroid is farthest from the Sun, i.e. when it is moving the slowest.

Moreover, the numerical error increases with time, as is usually the case in

numerical integration.

Figure 5.21 shows the x, y and z contributions to the numerical error. We

49

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.20: Points on Icarus’ orbit with biggest (in black) and smallest (in blue)

errors. The Sun is located at the right (invisible) focus of the ellipse, making the

left-most point of the ellipse the perihelion and the right-most point the aphelion.

Figure 5.21: Numerical error in the position of Icarus during the timespan 2014-

2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS

data.

50

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.22: Orbit of 2007 FT3 during the timespan January 1st 2014 - January

1st 2024 (data taken from HORIZONS).

can see that this time, the error in the z component contributes to the total

error, to the contrary of Apophis. This is to be expected as Icarus’ orbit is

inclined with respect to the ecliptic plane.

The numerical errors for the other bodies of the solar system are similar

to those obtained when studying the asteroid Apophis.

We will now consider the asteroid 2007 FT3 for our third case study. This

asteroid, whose orbit is shown in Figure 5.22 is chosen because it has a high

inclination (almost 27 degrees) with respect to the ecliptic plane and a rel-

atively small eccentricity (0.307). Hence it shares similarities with Apophis

(w.r.t. eccentricity) and with Icarus (w.r.t. inclination). A similar analysis

to that for Apophis will be done for 2007 FT3 using PAT2 .

340 m 5.5 · 1010 kg 1.2 years 1.128 AU 26.83 deg 0.307

Table 5.6: Some of asteroid 2007 FT3’s relevant physical data ([25], [26]).

51

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

10−4

Tolerance

106.0741 - 8.2

10−5 90.1473 15.9268 9

10−6 90.6667 -0.5194 11

Table 5.7: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the last

time step. Here, we consider the asteroid 2007 FT3 during the timespan 2014-2024.

Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that obtained

with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding the

marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance.

In Table 5.7, we compare the numerical errors in the last time step given

successively decreasing tolerances. Given the marginal improvements and

runtimes shown in this table, the tolerance 10−5 is preferred. Again, for the

sake of comparison, we note that for Apophis we chose a tolerance of 10−6

(small eccentricity) and 10−9 for Icarus (high eccentricity). Since 2007 FT3

has a relatively small eccentricity, this choice of tolerance corresponds to

our earlier hypothesis that small eccentricities will yield smaller numerical

errors. We will therefore use a tolerance of 10−5 in the study of 2007 FT3’s

trajectories.

Figure 5.23 shows the numerical error in the position of asteroids 2007

FT3 during the timespan Januray 1st 2014 to Januray 1st 2024. Similarly

to previous cases, the error is oscillatory with a period equal to the orbital

period of the body. The maximal error during the 10 year timespan is less

than 600 kilometers, which is acceptable for deflection mission analysis.

Figure 5.24 shows the decomposition of the error in the 3 component x, y

and z. This figure shows that all three of this components contribute to

the overall error, as expected because of the high inclination of the orbit.

Finally, we notice that the error increases with time, which is not surprising.

For our fourth case study, we consider the asteroid 2009 VZ39 whose orbit

is shown in Figure 5.25. This asteroid is chosen because it has both a small

inclination and a relatively small eccentricity. It is also the asteroid with

the highest number of potential impacts according to NASA’s Sentry list

[25] at this time. However, as this body’s diameter is well beneath the 140

meter threshold discussed previously, it would not survive entering Earth’s

52

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.23: Numerical error in the position of 2007 FT3 during the timespan

2014-2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.24: Numerical error in the position of 2007 FT3 during the timespan

2014-2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to

HORIZONS data.

53

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.25: Orbit of 2009 VZ39 during the timespan 2014-2024 (data taken from

HORIZONS).

interest.

A similar analysis to that for Apophis will be done for 2009 VZ39 using

PAT2 .

15 m 6.2 · 106 kg 1.81 years 1.4827 AU 2.52 deg 0.3824

Table 5.8: Some of asteroid 2009 VZ39’s relevant physical data. It is the aster-

oid with the highest number (815) of potential impacts with Earth, according to

NASA’s Sentry list ([25], [26]).

In Table 5.9, we compare the numerical errors in the last time step given

successively decreasing tolerances. Given the marginal improvements and

runtimes shown in this table, the tolerance 10−4 is preferred. Again, this

confirms that asteroids with low eccentricities will have smaller numerical

errors compared to asteroids with high eccentricities. We will therefore use

a tolerance of 10−4 in the study of 2009 VZ39’s trajectories.

Figure 5.26 shows the numerical error in the position of asteroid 2009

54

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

10−4

Tolerance

223.2047 - 6.8

10−5 226.9954 -3.7907 12

10−6 221.1609 5.8345 11

Table 5.9: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the last

time step. Here, we consider the asteroid 2009 VZ39 during the timespan 2014-2024.

Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that obtained

with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding the

marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance.

Figure 5.26: Numerical error in the position of 2009 VZ39 during the timespan

2014-2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

55

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.27: Numerical error in the position of 2009 VZ39 during the timespan

2014-2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to

HORIZONS data.

Apophis 4077 JPL 190

Icarus 856 JPL 76

2007 FT3 14 JPL 6

2009 VZ39 8 JPL 8

2008 FF5 52 JPL 14

Table 5.10: Number of observations used in the statistical fit of an orbit (see

Appendix A) and solution number for each of the five asteroids considered. The

solution number represents the number of time that an asteroid’s orbit has been

calculated (this is done every time new observations are made or when there is a

change in the code).

VZ39 during the timespan January 1st 2014 to January 1st 2024. We notice

that this error looks more like that of Icarus rather than that of Apophis

or 2007 FT3. Figure 5.27 shows the decomposition of the error into its x,

y and z components. As for Apophis, 2009 VZ39 lies almost in the ecliptic

and therefore the z component of the error is very small.

The maximal error during this 10 year period is about 2000 kilometers,

which is not only above the desired maximal value of 1000 kilometers, but

is also the highest error out of the asteroids considered so far. This is a

56

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

surprising result. In fact, 2009 VZ39 has a moderate eccentricity and a very

small inclination and therefore we would expect better numerical results.

One reason for this higher than expected error could be the fact that there

high uncertainty about this body and its orbit, as illustrated in Table 5.10.

In this table we see that only a small number of observations is used in the

statistical data fit of the orbit. This is most likely indicates that there are

not many observations or measurement of this asteroid and therefore some

physical parameters might have high uncertainties. Moreover, the solution

number shown in this table represents the number of times a solution has

been computed, either because new observations have been made or there is

a change in the code (observation processing algorithm, for example). This

number should also give an idea as to how well the asteroid’s orbit is known

and again we see that this number is small compared to that for the other

bodies considered.

For our last case study, we consider the asteroid 2008 FF5. This asteroid is

chosen because it has a very high eccentricity (0.965). Additionally, it has

a very big semi-major axis (almost 2.3 AU). Again, as this body’s diameter

is well beneath the 140 meter threshold discussed previously, it would not

survive entering Earth’s atmosphere and therefore is not dangerous. Never-

theless, it has interesting physical properties and therefore is of interest to

us.

A similar analysis to that for Apophis will be done for 2008 FF5 using PAT2 .

81 m 7.1 · 108 kg 3.45 years 2.283 AU 2.6 deg 0.965

Table 5.11: Some of asteroid 2008 FF5’s relevant physical data ([26],[25]).

In Table 5.12, we compare the numerical errors in the last time step given

successively decreasing tolerances. Given the marginal improvements and

runtimes, the tolerances 10−9 and 10−10 are the most interesting. We will

show the results of the numerical solution using 10−9 . We notice, once again,

that the tolerance needed in order to obtain reasonable errors is much smaller

than for less eccentric asteroids. However, it is important to note that

obtaining reasonable results is possible, but smaller tolerances are needed

and smaller tolerances translate to longer runtimes.

57

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.28: Orbit of 2008 FF5 during the timespan 2014-2024 (data taken from

HORIZONS).

10−6 3.8069·105 - 13.4

10−7 4.2613·104 3.38077·105

Tolerance

14.5

10−8 2.4135·103 4.0200·104 18.3

10−9 291.4986 2.1220·103 23.6

10−10 41.5419 249.9567 28.6

Table 5.12: Numerical error (in absolute value, compared to HORIZONS) in the

last time step. Here, we consider the asteroid 2008 FF5 during the timespan 2014-

2024. Each error (computed against HORIZONS) is then compared to that ob-

tained with the previously assigned tolerance (one order of magnitude less), yielding

the marginal improvement of a smaller tolerance.

58

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.29: Numerical error in the position of 2008 FF5 during the timespan

2014-2024. Numerical results are compared to HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.30: Points on 2008 FF5’s orbit with biggest (in black) errors. The Sun

is located at the right (invisible) focus of the ellipse, making the left-most point of

the ellipse the perihelion and the right-most point the aphelion.

59

SECTION 5. CASE STUDIES

Figure 5.31: Numerical error in the position of 2008 FF5 during the timespan

2014-2024 for each component x, y and z. Numerical results are compared to

HORIZONS data.

Figure 5.29 shows the numerical error in asteroid 2008 FF5’s position.

This is the only one of the asteroids that we consider that does not have an

oscillatory error. This is also the body with the longest orbital period (3.45

years compared to a maximal orbital period of 1.8 years for the four others).

Figure 5.30 shows the point of maximal error (black point), which happens

at day 1636 (about four and a half years into the timespan). In this figure,

the Sun is located on the right-hand side of the ellipse and therefore the

maximal error happens at perihelion, similarly to Icarus as shown in Figure

5.20. Figure 5.31 shows the contribution of each component x, y and z to

the overall numerical error. As in previous cases, the error in z is extremely

small because this body almost lies in the ecliptic.

60

Section 6

Work

† Image taken from http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_649.html

The results obtained in Section 5 suggest that the propagator PAT2 can

be used in the study of asteroid deflection missions.

Table 6.1 shows the eccentricity and inclination of each of the five aster-

oids considered as well as the tolerances chosen for each body, the maximal

errors after 10 years and the runtimes. We notice that the maximal error

for the 10 year timespan of Januray 1st 2014 to Januray 1st 2024 ranges

from 489 kilometers (for Apophis) to 2.5 · 103 kilometers (for Icarus). Out

of the five asteroids, three have maximal errors under the threshold of 1000

61

SECTION 6. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK

62

SECTION 6. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK

Eccentricity 0.191 0.8369 0.307 0.3824 0.965

Inclination [deg] 3.3 22.86 26.83 2.52 2.625

Tolerance 10−6 10−9 10−5 10−4 10−9

Max Error [km] 489.1 2.5·103 599.3 2·103 843.9

Runtime [min] 11.3 28.5 9 6.8 23.6

Table 6.1: Summary of the results obtained in Section 5. Max Error refers to the

maximal error over the 10 year timespan. These errors assume HORIZONS as the

truth. The values of the errors are rounded for simplicity.

kilometers. Moreover, the tolerances chosen for the asteroids with high

eccentricities (Icarus and 2008 FF5) are significantly smaller (3 orders of

magnitude) than those for the other asteroids. This is not surprising as

asteroids with eccentric orbits will have fast changes in acceleration. How-

ever, we also notice the accuracy of the solution does not only depend on

eccentricity. In fact, 2009 VZ39 has a relatively low eccentricity and has a

relatively big error. This can be attributed to the lack of knowledge that we

have about this asteroid and the uncertainty in the orbit in HORIZONS. In

fact, 2009 VZ39 has a small number of observations and therefore it’s input

data (initial state and mass) contains a lot of uncertainty, which can explain

the inaccuracy of the numerical solution and the orbit in HORIZONS has

only been computed a few times which means that it is not very precise.

Finally, a high inclination with respect to the ecliptic plane does not seem

to have an influence on the quality of the output.

Hence, when using PAT2 for orbit estimation, we can expect to obtain the

least accurate solutions when the asteroid in question has a high eccentric-

ity and a small number of observations or measurements. Nevertheless, in

other cases, the maximal error after 10 years should be smaller than 1000

kilometers.

Finally, we notice that the runtimes vary from less than 7 minutes (for 2009

VZ39, for which a tolerance of 10−4 is chosen) to 28.5 minutes (for Icarus,

for which a tolerance of 10−9 is chosen). This is a good illustration of the

impact of tolerance on runtime.

Figures 6.2 and 6.3 illustrate the relationships between tolerance and

runtime, and tolerance and error, respectively. As expected, runtimes in-

crease with decreasing tolerances and errors decrease with decreased toler-

ances. The rate of decrease in error depends on the orbit properties. These

two figures can be used when deciding what tolerance to use for a given

asteroid with a given orbit. Furthermore, they provide information on what

63

SECTION 6. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK

As far as limitations go, we see here is that PAT2 can only be used on

planets and minor planets or asteroids but not active comets. The reason

is that active comets require additional orbital parameters to account for

the nongravitational perturbations caused by outgassing of the cometary

nucleus, which is not modeled here. Other than that, PAT2 is flexible and

can introduce more or less objects, as desired, with minimal effort.

The most important limitation, as mentioned previously, is related to the

limitation of the input data. The quality of the results for any N-body

problem will heavily depend on the input parameters such as the initial

state vector and the mass of each body. Since the problem is unstable,

even small errors in these parameters can (and will) lead to very bad re-

sults. For asteroids that are hard to observe, i.e. for which we have very

few measurements, we cannot expect good numerical results. Furthermore,

for applications where an extremely precise asteroid trajectory is necessary

(for rendez-vous missions, for example), PAT2 may not be the best solution.

However, for many applications, including deflection mission analysis, the

obtained accuracy is acceptable. Finally, when studying close approaches,

it is necessary to use smaller tolerances compared to those for periods with

no close approaches. The errors should be expected to be higher and the

runtimes longer.

texts related to solar system dynamics.

In fact, using relativistic equations of motion and treating all bodies in the

system in the same way, it is possible to study each one of their positions and

velocities. Therefore, PAT2 can be used to generate planetary ephemerides

as well as asteroid ephemerides. Furthermore, the equations of motion can

be easily modified to include perturbing forces, i.e. to model all types of

deflection missions or even what if scenarios. The tool can also be used in

computing initial impact probabilities.

By allowing the PPN parameters β and γ to be modified (they are set to 1

in the general relativity theory), we have the possibility to study different

relativity theories. This is outside the scope of this project. However, it may

be interesting for physicists interested in alternative theories of relativity.

Future work related to the topics discussed in this thesis could include

further benchmarking against NASA’s GMAT. Studying periods of close

approach could yield important information as to the quality of each prop-

agator. Furthermore, some more digging into why the x component of the

numerical error dominates should be done. In theory, for asteroids that lie

(almost) in the ecliptic plane, the errors in x and y are expected to be similar

as the ecliptic plane corresponds to the xy plane. A deeper analysis of the

64

SECTION 6. CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE WORK

error for asteroid 2008 FF5 might also be interesting as it’s error was very

different compared to all the others presented.

Moreover, further work could include implementing the numerical integra-

tor in FORTRAN, a 128 bit language, from within MATLAB. This should

reduce the effect of roundoff errors and could potentially be beneficial to the

overall accuracy of the numerical solution.

Another path that could be explored in this context is that of develop-

ping a numerical integrator specifically built for orbit prediction, similarly

to JPL’s DIVA (see A). This would consist in finding a way to accurately

capture fast changes in accelerations which would then produce very high

quality ephemerides. We should note that DIVA was a multi-year endeavour

at JPL. Alternatively, licenses to DIVA can be purchased.

65

Appendices

66

Appendix A

Context

Thanks to Professor Olivier de Weck and Doctor Paul Chodas, I had the

opportunity to spend a day at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in

Pasadena, California.

Dr. Paul Chodas is a senior scientist at JPL. He is the asteroid dynamics

and impact probabilities guru. He is the principal architect for orbit deter-

mination and ephemeris software used by the JPL NEO Program Office and

a co-developer of the Sentry impact monitoring system.

The goal of my visit was to discuss the work that I have done in the

context of my Master thesis as well as the HORIZONS system developed

by JPL. As HORIZONS was, and still is, a big project, there are a number

of people working on its different aspects, such as the mathematical model,

the numerical integrator, the database, the updating of data, etc. I also had

the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions about each of these topics

with their respective experts.

Expectations

Going into this incredible visit, I did not know what to expect. I had

prepared a PowerPoint presentation describing the work I had done until

then as well as some questions that I would have liked to get the answers to.

These questions were about the equations of motion that are used to generate

asteroid ephemerides as well as the numerical integrator and reference frame.

Furthermore, by reading some documentation about HORIZONS, I learned

that asteroids and planets are handled differently at JPL. This means that

the ephemerides for planets are generated separately from those for the

asteroids and these ephemerides are also stored separately. I therefore also

wanted to know why this distinction was made and what is the difference

67

APPENDIX A. JPL VISIT REPORT

experience of obtaining different positions for a given asteroid at a given

time with two separate queries from HORIZONS, I wanted to know more

about how, when and why the ephemerides are updated.

The presentation that I gave went well. I was able to inform Paul on the

work I had done so far and the results that I had obtained. His first reaction

was to say that my results weren’t bad at all (I showed him Figures 5.4, 5.5,

5.19 and 5.21 from the case studies in Section 5). I described the model that

I have implemented as well as the equations of motion and the numerical

integrator.

in either the planetary or asteroid ephemerides. Paul remarked that when

considering the solar system as a whole, mechanical energy is not conserved.

There are a lot of other sources of energy that need to be taken into account

for a meaningful description of the exchange of energy.

The reason that the planets and asteroids are considered separately is

purely historical. In fact, asteroids have only started to be discovered re-

cently, long after trajectories of planets were being estimated. Therefore it

was easier to create a second database for asteroids with their own format

rather than trying to integrate these bodies with the planets.

Now, the way that the asteroid ephemerides are generated happens in a

few steps. First, the planetary ephemerides need to be known and therefore

previously computed. This is done using a numerical solver called DIVA.

This is a variable step size, variable order Adams method developed at JPL

over several years. It is specifically built to be able to handle fast changes

in accelerations, as is necessary when studying the elliptical orbits of plan-

ets. In fact, an object on an eccentric orbit will be greatly accelerated and

perihelion. Once positions are estimated, they are fit to data using the least

squares method. The bodies included in the model are the Sun and the

9 classical planets. Note that if DIVA had been developed later in time,

Pluto would most likely not have been included in the model. However, it

was considered a planet at that time and for this reason it was included in

the model. The equations of motion for the planets are the same as those

presented in equation (2.1), i.e. including the relativistic corrections asso-

ciated with the general theory of relativity. Interestingly, they use orbital

elements instead of Cartesian coordinates to describe the planets and aster-

oids’ ephemeris. The reason for this is that these orbital elements have a

68

APPENDIX A. JPL VISIT REPORT

ing at these, which is not possible with Cartesian coordinates. However, the

orbital elements are immediately converted into Cartesian coordinates for

the numerical integration.

Once the trajectories are estimated and fit to data, they are stored in the

form of polynomials so that it is possible to obtain the positions at any point

in time simply by evaluating the polynomial. Appendix B briefly explains

the type of interpolation used.

The way that the asteroid ephemerides are generated is entirely different.

In fact, all the planets’ trajectories are prescribed and only the trajectory

of the asteroid is computed (1 body problem). Because the ephemerides

are stored as polynomials, it is easy to obtain the necessary information

about any planet at any time. However, before this can be done for a

newly discovered object, a handful of astrometric observations need to be

made. Then a preliminary orbit is computed using a 2-body problem (i.e.

no perturbations from any of the planets is included). These are of course

very approximate, but this is ok. It allows the people who are tracking this

object to know where to look in the sky. Then, when observations have been

made over several days (thanks to the initial orbit estimation), a definitive

orbit can be computed, this time with planetary perturbations included.

The advantage of this method is that there is no (or minimal) error in

the positions of the planets and therefore the trajectories of the asteroid

cannot be any more accurate. The only errors are related to measurements

and numerical integration, contrarily to the method presented in Section 2

where the error in the positions of the planets will increase the errors in the

positions of the asteroid. Another advantage of this method is the reduced

computation time. In fact, the problem shrinks from a 15 body problem

to a 1 body problem and therefore there should be 15 times less variables

and function evaluations. Moreover, the equations of motion governing the

Earth-Moon system are extremely complicated; the tidal forces for example

have a big impact on the orbits. Therefore using precomputed orbits for the

Earth and Moon should produce better results.

Conclusions

There are two major conclusions to be made here. First of all, the way to

get the most accurate asteroid ephemerides is to use a previously generated

planetary ephemerides and solve a 1 body problem. This cuts down on run-

time tremendously.

The reason for the planet-asteroid separation is purely historic. However,

after a lot of trial and error, it was found that this separation is convenient

for asteroid ephemeris generating.

69

APPENDIX A. JPL VISIT REPORT

(for the planets) accurately, is highly complex. Ordinary differential equa-

tion solvers are not equipped with handling fast changes in accelerations

that happen with elliptical orbits. There needs to be a special handling of

errors for these fast changes, especially because the system is unstable.

It is important to keep in mind the context of this thesis and the goal of

the propagator. Even if we do not have access to an extremely high qual-

ity numerical integrator as they do at JPL, using the method of prescribed

planetary positions, we should still obtain as estimate of the asteroid’s tra-

jectory that is accurate enough for the study of deflection missions.

Finally, a short remark can be made about the study of keyhole passages.

In fact, the definition of a keyhole is simply a region in space such that if an

asteroid were to pass through the keyhole, the asteroid would collide with

Earth. However, when studying deflection missions, the only important

thing to know is whether or not the asteroid will collide with Earth and

therefore any simulation should be run until it can be determined if this will

happen or not (i.e. we do not stop the integration at the keyhole but at the

impact). In fact, the only way we can know if a point in space is part of a

keyhole is to start an asteroid at that point and see if it then collides with

the Earth. It would be interesting to determine how much ∆V is needed to

avoid a particular asteroid hitting Earth. This ∆V will grow a lot in the

keyhole region. Note that in these situations, we consider all bodies as point

masses and therefore a point-mass asteroid is either in or out of a keyhole,

but cannot be partly in and partly out as would be the case in reality.

70

Appendix B

Chebyshev Polynomial

Interpolation

In order to minimize the interpolation error (in the norm of the maximum,

i.e. the maximum error), we compute the roots of the Chebyshev polyno-

mials and use them as the nodes for a Lagrangian interpolation polynomial

(or any other interpolation polynomial of the same degree). For a general

interval [a, b] and a function f that is interpolated by a polynomial Pn of

degree n, by using

xi = + cos

2 2 2(n + 1)

n+1

b−a Bn+1

|f (x) − Pn (x)| ≤ n

,

2 2 (n + 1)!

with Bn+1 = maxx∈[a,b] |f (n+1) (x)|. More details can be found in [27].

71

Appendix C

Names

Reading Section 5, some may wonder how these asteroids get their names.

The answer is far from obvious.

First, we should note that asteroids are being discovered on a daily basis

and will keep on being discovered for decades and probably more. These

asteroids are the smaller ones, that do not pose much of a threat to Earth.

The larger asteroids are quite well known. In fact, we have information on

all of these potentially dangerous asteroids.

this name correspond to the year that the asteroid was discovered. The first

letter after these four digits corresponds to half years. Let me explain. A

corresponds to the first half of January, B to the second half of January, C

to the first half of February, and so on. The rest of the name comes from the

fact that a great number of asteroids are being discovered and therefore we

need a second letter and some more numbers to distinguish all the asteroids

discovered in a given half year.

For example, 2007 FT3 was discovered in the year 2007. More precisely, in

the second half of March (letter F).

72

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74

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