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Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

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A constant gain Kalman lter approach for the prediction


of re-entry of risk objects
A.K. Anilkumara, , M.R. Ananthasayanamb , P.V. Subba Raoc
a Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Indian Space Research Organization, Trivandrum 695 022, India
b Department of Aerospace Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560 012, India
c Applied Mathematics Division, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Indian Space Research Organization, Trivandrum 695 022, India

Received 28 June 2005; received in revised form 16 November 2006; accepted 25 January 2007
Available online 30 April 2007

Abstract
The accurate estimation of the predicted re-entry time of decaying space debris objects is very important for proper planning
of mitigation strategies and hazard assessment. This paper highlights the implementation strategies adopted for the online reentry prediction using Kalman lter approach with constant gains with the states being the semi-major axis, eccentricity and
ballistic coefcient and using the measurements of the apogee height and perigee height derived from the Two Line Elements
provided by agencies like USSPACECOM. Only a very simple model is utilised for the orbit propagation and a basic feature
of the present approach is that any unmodellable state and measurement errors can be accounted for by adjusting the Kalman
gains which are chosen based on a suitable cost function. In this paper we provide the details of validating this approach by
utilising three re-entries of debris objects, namely, US Sat. No. 25947, SROSS-C2 Satellite and COSMOS 1043 rocket body.
These three objects re-entered the Earths atmosphere on 4th March 2000, 12th July 2001 and 19th January 2002, respectively.
2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
The accurate estimation of the nal orbital characteristics of decaying objects is of considerable importance
for predicting the re-entry time to plan mitigation strategies and hazard assessment. Space debris studies [1,2]
demand assessment of orbital life times of a large number of objects resulting from on-orbit fragmentation or
collision. The usual database available for the re-entry
time or the orbital lifetime prediction of large debris objects is the set of Two Line Elements (TLEs) provided by
the agencies like USSPACECOM [3]. The information
Corresponding author. Fax: +91 471 270 4134.

E-mail addresses: anilk_ak@yahoo.com (A.K. Anilkumar),


sayanam@aero.iisc.ernet.in (M.R. Ananthasayanam),
pulipakasrao@yahoo.co.in (P.V. Subba Rao).
0094-5765/$ - see front matter 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2007.01.063

on the TLE sets provided in [3] are the orbital


parameters together with rate of mean motion decay
and an equivalent ballistic coefcient B . The physical
parameters of the objects like mass, area of cross section, shape and dimensions are not accurately available
and further any modelling of the atmosphere in which
the objects decay is also uncertain and variable. Also,
due to the tumbling of the bodies and the complex
gassurface molecular interaction the changing ballistic coefcient B further complicates the prediction of
re-entry time.
The orbital propagator utilised in this study is a very
simple model [4,5], as provided in Appendix A, which
accounts for only the atmospheric drag effect on the
orbital decay of the object. This model estimates only
the semi-major axis and eccentricity decay in one revolution by considering only constant scale height during

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A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

Nomenclature
a
A/m
B
B
CD
e
ha
hp
H
J
K
N
P0
Q
R
R
t

semi-major axis in km
area to mass ratio
ballistic coefcient (=CD A/m)
drag term in TLE data, related to B
non-dimensional drag coefcient
eccentricity
apogee height
perigee height
measurement matrix
normalised innovation cost function
Kalman gain matrix
number of measurements
initial state covariance
process noise covariance
measurement noise covariance
innovation covariance
time

the revolution. Such a mean atmospheric model from


[6] is utilised to demonstrate the effectiveness of the
proposed approach. However, more sophisticated orbit
propagators with high delity atmospheric models like
MSIS-86 [7] can be implemented with the present procedure to make the re-entry prediction more accurate
for high end users.
Though the Inter Agency Debris Co-ordination Committee (IADC) conducts many re-entry campaigns the
procedures that have been adopted by the various groups
are not available in the open literature. The present technique for the re-entry prediction uses the Kalman lter approach with constant gains [1,8]. Gelb [9] and
Sugiyama [10] consider constant gain Kalman lter approaches but their method of tuning the desired lter
parameters is manual as against the present rational procedure based on a suitable normalised innovation cost
function as in Anilkumar et al. [11].
In the present problem the lter states are the semimajor axis, eccentricity and the ballistic coefcient (B =
CD A/m) denoted by (a, e, B), and the measurements
are the apogee height and perigee height (equivalent
to semi-major axis and eccentricity) derived from the
TLEs provided by agencies like USSPACECOM. The
constant Kalman gains as chosen in the present procedure are able to account for both the unmodelled and
unmodellable state and measurement errors. In this paper we validate our present approach based on three
typical re-entries of debris objects, namely, US Sat. No.
25947, SROSS-C2 Satellite and COSMOS 1043 rocket

v
w
X
Z

measurement noise
process noise
state vector
measurement vector

Greek letters




innovation
density
state transition matrix

Superscripts

T
1

value before update


value after update
transpose of a matrix
inverse of a matrix

Subscripts
0
k

initial condition
discrete time index

body by comparing the observed re-entry with the predicted re-entry. These objects re-entered the Earths atmosphere on 4th March 2000, 12th July 2001 and 19th
January 2002, respectively.
2. Filter world scenario: state equations
The state equations governing the variables (a, e, B),
are
ak = ak1 + ak1 + w1
= ak1 + 1 (ak1 , ek1 )Bk1 + w1 ,

(1)

ek = ek1 + ek1 + w2
= ek1 + 2 (ak1 , ek1 )Bk1 + w2 ,
Bk = Bk1 + w3 ,

(2)
(3)

where w1 , w2 and w3 denote the process noise. The


functional forms for 1 and 2 are the expressions given
in King-Hele [4] which depend on a, e and B. The sufx
k denotes the time instant. The detailed expressions
for 1 and 2 are provided in Appendix A.
3. Filter world scenario: measurement equations
The measurements are available in terms of the orbital
parameters a and e, in the tracked TLEs. But in the
lter the predicted apogee and perigee heights in terms
of the above are
(h
a )k = ak (1 + ek )

A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

and
(h
p )k = ak (1 ek ).

(4)

The measurements at time tk are of the form


(ha )k = (h
a )k + v 1
and
(hp )k = (h
p )k + v 2 ,

(5)

where v1 , v2 are, respectively, the measurement noises


in apogee height and perigee height. Since no information is available regarding the characteristics of the
above measurement noises in apogee height and perigee
height values derived from the mean motion and eccentricity in TLE sets, we assume them to be white Gaussian distribution represented by
[v1 , v2 ]T N(0, R)

(6)

with R the measurement noise covariance matrix assumed as constant.


The predicted values of the apogee and perigee
heights and the ballistic coefcient useful in the state
equations are updated by utilising the measured values
of the above heights as

+
ha
ha
k11 k12 

ha h a
h+ h
.
(7)
p = p + k21 k22
hp h
p k
+

k31 k32
B k
B k
The superscript (+) corresponds to the updated values,
the superscript () for the predicted values and sufx
k denotes the time instant.
4. Adaptive Kalman ltering approach with time
varying gains
Before applying the constant Kalman gain approach
extensive studies have been conducted using the adaptive technique. It turned out that generally after a transient the Kalman gain matrix elements tend to constant
values. This observation provides a possible approach
in which instead of tuning the usual Kalman lter statistics for the initial state, process and measurement noise
covariances P0 , Q and R, a smaller number of Kalman
gain elements can be worked out. A good statistical consistency of the results from the adaptive technique and
the constant Kalman gain approach provided the condence in the latter approach.
Assuming that the measurements are available at N
discrete time instants, the normalised innovation cost

833

function J fundamental to the Kalman lter as suggested


by Sorenson [12] is dened as in [13,14]

J = (1/N )
Tk [HPHT + R]1 k

= (1/N )
Tk [R]1 k,
(8)
where the innovation k = (measurementmodel
output), and R is the covariance matrix of the innovation written as HPHT +R, where H is the measurement
matrix, relating the state to the measurement as
Z = HX.

(9)

P is the state covariance and R is the measurement


noise covariance matrix. Though there are many techniques for tuning the lter statistics, the heuristic approach of Myers and Tapley for Q and R [15] and of
Gemson and Ananthasayanam [14] for P0 is perhaps
the simplest. In general, R varies as a function of time
depending on the choice of P0 , Q and R.
Presently, it was found to be adequate to obtain P0 by
utilising the deviations of the assumed initial conditions
of the states (a, e) with those obtained from the rst
TLE set under consideration and for the state B, the
deviation of initially assumed B0 with that of the derived
value of B from B is used. The values of B are B are
related as
B = (ref /2)B,

(10)

where ref is the atmospheric density at a reference


altitude.
However, for Q and R we have utilised the heuristic
estimators of Myers and Tapley [15]. These estimators
are constructed from the statistics of the state and measurement samples generated in the Kalman lter algorithm. The present approximate structure for the noise
statistics in one lter pass through the data are given
below.
Measurement noise covariance
r =

N
1 
rk ,
N
k=1

R =

1 
[(rk r )(rk r )T ].
N 1

(11)

k=1

State noise covariance


N
1 
q =
qk ,
N
k=1

=
Q

1 
[(qk q)(q
k q)
T ],
N 1

(12)

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A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839


Table 1
Parameters utilised in the implementation of GA for the re-entry
problem

where
rk = Zk Hk X k1 ,
qk = X k X k1

(13)

are the state and observation samples,  is the state


transition matrix, H is the measurement matrix, X and
X are, respectively, the predicted and updated state
estimates. Further details of iteratively obtaining all
the lter statistics are available in Gemson and Ananthasayanam [14].

Parameter

Values

Population size
Bit length
Probability of cross over
Probability of mutation
Number of generations for convergence
Alternate tolerance for convergence: change in J
between generations

100
20
0.90
0.05
50
0.0001

5. Constant Kalman gain approach


Generally after the initial transients the Kalman Gain
matrix tends to a constant value as has been noticed
in the rendezvous and docking [16], evolution and expansion of the space debris scenario [11] problems, it
was also noticed in the present case as well. These constant gains can be obtained by making the above normalised innovation cost function equal to the number
of measurements in the present algorithm to handle the
re-entry problem. Further, it is assumed that the above
R is a constant as in [17]. Thus, the R can be estimated
similar to the estimation of the pure measurement noise
only as is the case in the Method of Maximum Likelihood Estimation [17]. For this purpose we have utilised
the Genetic Algorithm [18,19] in the present work.
There could be slight differences in the gain values
obtained from the adaptive and the constant gain approaches due to the relative periods of transients and
the steady state conditions. The advantage of the constant Kalman gain approach based on utilising the cost
function J is that one need not propagate the covariance
equations at all, thus enormously reducing the computational load.
6. Genetic algorithm
The steps to implement the genetic algorithm [18,19]
are as follows.
Step 1: Choose a suitable coding to represent the
unknown parameters in the problem.
Step 2: Select the criteria for Reproduction (Mating
pool generation)/Cross Over/Mutation. Input the initial
population size, probabilities of cross over and mutation, search domain of the variables, termination criteria
(TC) or Maximum allowable iterations (Tmax ).
Step 3: Set T = 0.
Step 4: Evaluate each string of the population for
tness J.
Step 5: If T > Tmax or satises TC: terminate perform
reproduction, cross over, mutation on the population.

Step 6: Evaluate the strings of the new population.


Step 7: T = T + 1, go to step 5.
Table 1 provides the parameter values for the present
study arrived after some trials.
7. Performance of the algorithm in different case
studies
This section provides the results obtained by the
present algorithm for three different re-entry objects.
7.1. Case study with US Sat. No. 25947, Soyuz
The Sat. No. 25947, with international designation
1999-058E, is a rocket body (Starsem SoyuzIkar third
stage, block 1 of Soyuz 11A511 U launcher), launched
on 18th October 1999. Its mass is about 2300 kg and is
nearly cylindrical in shape, with end domes, of 2.7 m
diameter and 8.1 m long. A set of 72 orbital elements
was made available for re-entry prediction between 2nd
February and 3rd March 2000. The actual re-entry of
this body occurred on 4th March 2000 at 5 h 50 min,
64.243 days calculated from 1st January 2000.
In all the prediction studies, the object was assumed
to re-enter the Earths atmosphere when its semi-major
axis is below 120 km above the Earth. This is because
diffusive equilibrium predominates above 120 km with
signicant variations in the atmospheric properties with
solar, magnetic activity and local time [20].
Starting from the 22nd TLE set, the present algorithm
is utilised for the prediction of the re-entry time. The
present algorithm utilises six constant Kalman gains
two each for the three states, namely, apogee height,
perigee height and ballistic coefcient with respect to
the apogee and perigee height measurements. An important parameter in this implementation is the initial
assumed value of the ballistic coefcient (B0 ).
Starting with different B0 values, the performance of
the algorithm is provided in Fig. 1 by considering a set

A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

Fig. 1. Re-entry predictions with different B0 values (Sat. No.


25947).

Fig. 2. Estimates of time varying B with different B0 values (Sat.


No. 25947).

of constant values for Kalman gains. From this gure it


is clear that the value 0.040 as B0 provides the minimum
variance in the re-entry prediction time with respect to
the TLEs.
Fig. 2 provides the ballistic coefcient update in each
of the above cases as the available TLE set numbers
increase. As already discussed, the ballistic coefcient
as a state gets updated online. This is to be expected
since starting from an initial value the lter estimates
are improved, and also it accounts for the effect of tumbling motion, and with varying gassurface interaction.
Also, it may be noted that the model utilised here for
the propagation of the orbital characteristics is a very
simple one, which considers only the atmospheric drag

835

Fig. 3. Re-entry prediction with different sets of Kalman gains (Sat.


No. 25947).

effect that too based on mean atmospheric conditions.


The uncertainty in such an environmental model is also
contained in the predicted ballistic coefcient. Fig. 2
clearly brings out the robustness of the present constant
Kalman gain approach though beginning with different
values of B0 the ballistic coefcients seem to converge
towards a single value after ltering through some TLE
measurements.
The procedure for xing the approximate B0 can be
extended to obtain the set of constant Kalman gains as
well. Fig. 3 provides the performance of the algorithm
with different sets of Kalman gains. This gure also
indicates very subtly the robustness of the lter performance in terms of different sets of constant Kalman
gains. Such a variation of the Kalman lter statistics
would have led to much larger performance variations.
A careful study of the normalised innovation cost function for each set provided a set of constant gains as 0.6,
0.2, 0.2, 0.6, 0.00014 and 0.0001, as just about the best
possible choice. Hence, a nal prediction is made on
the re-entry of Sat. No. 25947 with the above Kalman
gains and with B0 equal to 0.04. A graphical representation of this nal prediction is provided in Fig. 4 and
the other details of the results are as given below.
Near optimal B0 = 0.040.
Actual re-entry
= 64.243 days from 1st January 2000
= 4th March 2000 at 5 h 50 min .
Near optimal Kalman gains, K
= [k11 k12 k21 k22 k31 k32]
= [0.6 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.00014 0.0001].

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A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

Fig. 4. Final prediction of re-entry time with near optimal Kalman


gains (Sat. No. 25947).

Fig. 5. The B and cost J for prediction with optimal gains (Sat. No.
25947).

Prediction with latest elset


= 64.3257 days from 1st January 2000
= 4th March 2000 at 7 h 35 min .
The prediction depends on the epoch at which the
last TLE is available at which the re-entry is predicted.
In principle, the optimal gains can be found out as and
when the data are available. The present approach is
exercised from TLE set number 22 (about 12 days prior
to actual re-entry) to the last available TLE by predicting
the re-entry. The summary of the results is
mean prediction
= 64.2323 days from 1st January 2000
= 4th March 2000 at 5 h 35 min ;
RSS error on prediction from actual = 1 h 51 min;
standard deviation on prediction = 2 h 09 min.
Further the noise in the measurements and the states
are estimated using the adaptive procedure outlined
above based on the cost function J. The ballistic coefcient estimated sequentially and the corresponding
cost J are provided in Fig. 5. The Fig. 6 brings out
the estimated measurement noise levels by adaptive
estimation of the noises. The estimated process noise
values for the three states namely the semi-major axis,
eccentricity and the ballistic coefcient are given in
Fig. 7. The Fig. 8 provides the measurement updates
with the observations in the present approach.

Fig. 6. Sat. No. 25947 re-entry predictions: measurement noise


estimates in apogee and perigee heights from the adaptive ltering
technique.

7.1.1. Remarks on statistical behaviour of genetic


algorithm populations
The statistical behaviour of the constant gains, tuned
through genetic algorithm, was also studied. It is found
that even after 100 iterations the populations have not
converged close to a single set but there was a scatter.
But the dispersion band of the parameters had narrowed
down as the iteration progresses.

A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

837

reckoned from 1st January 2001. A total of 28 TLE sets


were available for the present analysis.
Starting from the second TLE set, the present algorithm is utilised for prediction of the re-entry time. As
in the case of Sat. No. 25947, here also a detailed study
was carried out on the sensitivities of B0 parameter and
the Kalman gains. The details of the results are as given
below.
Near optimal B0 = 0.014.
Actual re-entry
= 193.129 days from 1st January 2001
= 12th July 2001 at 3 h 06 min .
Near optimal Kalman gains, K
= [k11 k12 k21 k22 k31 k32]
= [0.5 0.2 0.2 0.5 0.0006 0.0006].
Fig. 7. Sat. No. 25947 re-entry prediction: process noise estimates
in a, e and B from the adaptive ltering technique.

Prediction with latest elset


= 193.1488 days from 1st January 2001
= 12th July 2001 at 3 h 36 min .
7.3. Case study with COSMOS 1043 object

Fig. 8. Observed measurements and estimated values of apogee and


perigee heights from the constant gain approach.

7.2. Case study with SROSS-C2 Satellite


Sat. No. 23099 is Indias SROSS-C2 Satellite (international designation 1994-027A) launched on 4th May
1994 initially into an orbit of 430 620 km size at
nearly 46 inclination. Its weight is about 113 kg and
it is cylindrical in shape with a diameter of 0.32 m and
length of 0.86 m. It is understood that its re-entry has
occurred on 12th July 2001 at 3 h 6 min193.129 days

This is a Russian Vostok (SL-3/A-1) Upper Stage


1043 R (USSPACECOM Catalog No. 11056), started
on 10th January 2002. The object was of cylindrical
shape (diameter 2.6 m, length 3.0 m) having a dry mass
of 1400 kg. The COSPAR ID No. of this rocket body is
1978-094B. It deployed its payload (COSMOS 1043)
into an initial orbit of 622 km 635 km at 81.2 inclination on 10th October 1978. Fifty TLE sets for this object were available for ofine predictions, which were
downloaded from the Internet.
As in the earlier cases, the present algorithm is
utilised for prediction of the re-entry time. A complete
analysis was made on the sensitivities of B0 parameter
and the Kalman gains. The details of the results are as
given below.
Near optimal B0 = 0.010.
Actual re-entry
= 19.923 days from 1st January 2002
= 19th January 2002 at 22 h 09 min .
Near optimal Kalman gains, K
= [k11 k12 k21 k22 k31 k32]
= [0.6 0.2 0.2 0.6 0.0004 0.0004].

838

A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

Prediction with latest elset


= 19.942 days from 1st January 2002
= 19th January 2002 at 22 h 35 min.
8. Conclusions
A novel approach by utilising the Kalman lter formalism with constant gains for an efcient online prediction of the re-entry time of space objects has been
presented. Illustrative examples, which show the efciency of the proposed methodology with actual reentries of three space objects, are also provided. This
methodology utilised only a mean atmosphere and a
simple propagator considering only atmospheric drag
effects. In particular, even the atmosphere characteristics as in the latest MSIS-86 model [7] can also be used.
However, the robustness of the constant gains have the
ability to handle this mismatch as well, just as the inaccuracies in modelling B, as well as both the unmodelled
and unmodellable state and measurement noise characteristics.
Appendix A
A.1. Basic equations of orbital decay due to air drag
Consider an object S moving due to an attractive
force which varies inversely with the square of the distance r from the centre of attraction. If the position vector of the particle relative to the centre of attraction is
r, we have
r +

r
=0
r3

and the angular momentum h is given by


h = (p)1/2 n,
where n is the unit vector perpendicular to the orbit
plane and p is the semi-latus rectum dened as
p = a(1 e2 ) = h/2 .
The energy equation is


1
1
1
r r = 

,
2
|r| 2a
where the dot () denotes the scalar product.
Suppose now that the orbit is perturbed by a force f
per unit mass, so that
r +

r
= f.
r3

The orbital parameters are now liable to change. By


differentiating the energy equations and introducing the
drag forces as the perturbation force f, we obtain following King-Hele [4]:
 2
(1 + e cos E)3/2
2
 dE
a = a 
(1 e cos E)1/2
0
and
x = a 
2


 2 
1 + e cos E 1/2
0

1 e cos E

(cos E + e) dE,

where x = ae.
Expanding the above in a power series of e cos(E)
(for e < 0.2), we obtain modied Bessel functions Jj
of the rst kind of order j, dened as
 2
1
cos(j ) exp(c cos()) d.
Jj (c) =
2 0
Hence utilising the modied Bessel functions and a
simple model for air density, assuming the density
depends solely on the distance r from the Earths centre and varies exponentially with r, we get the rate of
change over one revolution in the elements due only to
drag as
arev = 2a 2 p

3e2

(J0 + J2 )
J0 + 2eJ 1 +

expc
3

+ (3J1 + J3 ) + O(e4 )
4
erev
= 2ap

e
e2

J1 + (J0 + J2 ) (5J1 + J3 )

2
8

expc ,

e3

(5J0 + 4J2 J4 ) + O(e4 )


16
where p is the density at perigee, c = ae/H , H
is the density scale height,  = (QC D )A/m, Q the
factor which includes the rotation of the atmosphere
(0.9 < Q < 1.1), m the mass of the satellite, Jj the
modied Bessel function of rst kind of order j , in all
cases having argument c, CD the drag coefcient usually taken as 2.2, and A the effective reference area.
Hence at kth revolution
ak = ak1 + ak1 ,
ek = ek1 + ek1 ,
where aj , ej stands for semi-major axis and eccentricity
at time instant tj , j = k 1, k.

A.K. Anilkumar et al. / Acta Astronautica 61 (2007) 831 839

A.2. The model for the density variation in the


atmosphere
The model of the atmosphere used here assumes
a spherically symmetrical distribution of particles in
which the density  varies exponentially according to


(h h0 )
 = 0 exp
,
H
where h is the height above the surface of the Earth, 0
the density at height h0 , and H the scale height.
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