Numerical analysis and design of satellite constellations for above the horizon coverage



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As near-Earth space becomes increasingly crowded with spacecraft and debris, the need for improved space situational awareness has become paramount. Contemporary ground-based systems are limited in the detection of very small or dim targets. In contrast, space-based systems, above most atmospheric interference, can achieve significant improvements in dim target detection by observing targets against a clutter-free space background, i.e. targets above the horizon (ATH). In this study, numerical methods for the evaluation of ATH coverage provided by constellations of satellites are developed. Analysis of ATH coverage volume is reduced to a planar analysis of cross-sectional coverage area in the orbit plane. The coverage model performs sequences of boolean operations between polygons representing cross-sections of satellite sensor coverage regions and regions of interest, returning the coverage area at the desired multiplicity. This methodology allows investigation of any coverage multiplicity for planar constellations of any size, and use of arbitrary sensor profiles and regions of interest. The implementation is applied to several constellation design problems demonstrating the utility of the numerical ATH coverage model in a constellation design process.