In astronautics and aerospace engineering, the bi-elliptic transfer is an orbital maneuver that moves a spacecraft from one orbit to another and sometimes requires less delta-v than a Hohmann transfer maneuver.
The bi-elliptic transfer consists of two half elliptic orbits. From the initial orbit, a first burn expends delta-v to boost the spacecraft into the first transfer orbit with an apoapsis at some point away from the central body. At this point a second burn sends the spacecraft into the second elliptical orbit with periapsis at the radius of the final desired orbit, where a third burn is performed, injecting the spacecraft into the desired orbit.
While they require one more engine burn than a Hohmann transfer and generally requires a greater travel time, some bi-elliptic transfers require a lower amount of total delta-v than a Hohmann transfer when the ratio of final to initial semi-major axis is 11.94 or greater, depending on the intermediate semi-major axis chosen.
The three required changes in velocity can be obtained directly from the vis viva equation,
- is the speed of an orbiting body
- is the standard gravitational parameter of the primary body
- is the distance from the orbiting body to the primary
- is the semi-major axis of the body's orbit
- is the common apoapsis distance of the two transfer ellipses and is a free parameter of the maneuver.
- and are the semimajor axes of the two elliptical transfer orbits, which are given by
Starting from the initial circular orbit with radius (dark blue circle in the figure to the right) a prograde burn (mark 1 in the figure) puts the spacecraft on the first elliptical transfer orbit (aqua half ellipse). The magnitude of the required delta-v for this burn is:
When the apoapsis of the first transfer ellipse is reached at a distance from the primary, a second prograde burn (mark 2) so raises the periapsis to the radius of the target circular orbit, thus putting the spacecraft on a second elliptic trajectory (orange half ellipse). The magnitude of the required delta-v for the second burn is:
Lastly, when the final circular orbit with radius is reached, a retrograde burn (mark 3) circularizes the trajectory into the final target orbit (red circle). The final retograde burn requires a delta-v of magnitude:
If , then the maneuver reduces to a Hohmann transfer (in that case can be verified to become zero). Thus the bi-elliptic transfer constitutes a more general class of orbital transfers, of which the Hohmann transfer is a special two-impulse case.
Like the Hohmann transfer, both transfer orbits of the bi-elliptic transfer constitute half an elliptic orbit. The time required to execute each phase of the transfer therefore is half the orbital period of each transfer ellipse.
Using the equation for the orbital period and the notation from above:
The total transfer time is the sum of the time that each half orbit requires:
To transfer from circular low earth orbit with r0=6700 km to a new circular orbit with r1=93800 km using Hohmann transfer orbit requires delta-v of 2824.34+1308.38=4132.72 m/s. However, because r1=14r0 >11.94r0, a bi-elliptic transfer is better. If the spaceship first accelerates 3060.31 m/s, thus achieving an elliptic orbit with apogee at r2=40r0=268000 km, then in apogee accelerates another 608.679 m/s to a new orbit with perigee at r1=93800 km, and finally in perigee decelerates by 447.554 m/s, entering final circular orbit, then the total delta-v will be only 4116.54, which is 16.18 m/s (0.4%) less.
|Burn||Hohmann ΔV (m/s)||Bi-elliptic ΔV (m/s)|
- ΔV applied prograde
- ΔV applied retrograde
Evidently, the bi-elliptic orbit spends more of its delta-V early on (in the first burn) thus yielding a higher contribution to the specific orbital energy and, due to the Oberth effect, reduces required delta-V.
- Vallado, David Anthony (2001). Fundamentals of Astrodynamics and Applications. Springer. p. 317. ISBN 0-7923-6903-3.
- Sternfeld, Ary J. [sic] (1934-02-12), "Sur les trajectoires permettant d'approcher d'un corps attractif central à partir d'une orbite keplérienne donnée" [On the allowed trajectories for approaching a central attractive body from a given Keplerian orbit], Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences (in French) (Paris) 198 (1): 711–713