Book Review: Lunar and Interplanetary Trajectories

SMART-1's final trajectory. Image credit: ESA

I’ve always been amazed when watching the game of billiards. Some person, with great concentration and aim, uses a long wooden stick to strike one ball which then, by design, causes reactions to other balls. The balls travel along precisely predetermined paths! Now imagine doing this in 3-D. Sound impossible? Well, that’s what mission designers must do when preparing to send a probe to another orbiting body in our solar system. And their methodology is wonderfully presented in Robin Biesbroek’s book “Lunar and Interplanetary Trajectories”.This book could be described as ‘precise.’ The author describes it as being written for a systems approach. He then goes on to proclaim that he presents and uses only one equation. This may be a good thing as the book has more than enough numerical data without adding the analytics. And the information flows along smoothly, as if presenting a case study so the reader won’t get overwhelmed.First Biesbroek presents the significant parameters; the C3 launch energy and the co-ordinate system. Remember that I mentioned things were in three dimensions? Well, this book has us also realize that the co-ordinate system can come in many guises. As well, there’s lots of angular momentum with which to deal. To aid the reader, the author includes many, many charts, graphs and plots. The plots of trajectories from Earth to beyond are particularly revealing and indeed necessary at times to grasp the nuances of positive and negative notations and maximum energy usage. To entice the reader further, Biesbroek includes many resolved missions, such as New Horizons, Phobos Grunt and Cassini/Huygens. Last, with almost a teasing presence, the author adds to the end of each chapter a few scholarly exercises. But don’t worry, the solutions immediately follow!Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? Well there’s more. Biesbroek utilizes his systems approach when —> Read More