Science orbits in the Saturn–Enceladus circular restricted three-body problem with oblate primaries

Francisco Salazar, Adham Alkhaja, Elena Fantino, Elisa Maria Alessi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This contribution investigates the properties of a category of orbits around Enceladus. The motivation is the interest in the in situ exploration of this moon following Cassini's detection of plumes of water and organic compounds close to its south pole. In a previous investigation, a set of heteroclinic connections were designed between halo orbits around the equilibrium points L1 and L2 of the circular restricted three-body problem with Saturn and Enceladus as primaries. The kinematical and geometrical characteristics of those trajectories makes them good candidates as science orbits for the extended observation of the surface of Enceladus: they are highly inclined, they approach the moon and they are maneuver-free. However, the low heights above the surface and the strong perturbing effect of Saturn impose a more careful look at their dynamics, in particular regarding the influence of the polar flattening of the primaries. Therefore, those solutions are here reconsidered by employing a dynamical model that includes the effect of the oblateness of Saturn and Enceladus, individually and in combination. The dynamical equivalents of the halo orbits around the equilibrium points L1 and L2 and their stable and unstable hyperbolic invariant manifolds are obtained in the perturbed models, and maneuver-free heteroclinic connections are identified in the new framework. A systematic comparison with the corresponding solutions of the unperturbed problem shows that qualitative and quantitative features are not significantly altered when the oblateness of the primaries is taken into account. Furthermore, it is found that the J2 coefficient of Saturn plays a larger role than that of Enceladus. From a mission perspective, the results confirm the scientific value of the solutions obtained in the classical circular restricted three-body problem and suggests that this simpler model can be used in a preliminary feasibility analysis.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)398-416
Number of pages19
JournalActa Astronautica
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Circular restricted three-body problem
  • Enceladus
  • First zonal harmonic coefficient
  • Heteroclinic connections
  • Libration Point Orbits
  • Saturn
  • Science orbits


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