NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission was recently maneuvered into a unique long-term stable Earth orbit, with apogee at ∼50 Earth radii (RE). The Moon's (∼65 RE) gravity disrupts most highly elliptical Earth orbits, leading to (1) chaotic orbital solutions, (2) the inability to predict orbital positions more than a few years into the future, and ultimately (3) mission-ending possibilities of atmospheric reentry or escape from Earth orbit. By synchronizing the satellite's orbital period to integer fractions of the Moon's sidereal period, PM = 27.3 days (e.g., PM/2 = 13.6 days, PM/3 = 9.1 days), and phasing apogee to stay away from the Moon, very long term stability can be achieved. Our analysis indicates orbital stability for well over a decade, and these IBEX-like orbits represent a new class of Earth orbits that are stable far longer than typical satellite lifetimes. These orbits provide cost-effective and nearly ideal locations for long-term space weather observations from spacecraft that can remotely image the Earth's magnetosphere from outside its boundaries while simultaneously providing external (solar wind or magnetosheath) observation over most of their orbits. Utilized with multiple spacecraft, such orbits would allow continuous and simultaneous monitoring of the magnetosphere in order to help predict and mitigate adverse space weather-driven effects.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science