Efficient meta-heuristics for spacecraft trajectory optimization
Meta-heuristics has a long tradition in computer science. During the past few years, different types of meta-heuristics, specially evolutionary algorithms got noticeable attention in dealing with real-world optimization problems. Recent advances in this field along with rapid development of high processing computers, make it possible to tackle various engineering optimization problems with relative ease, omitting the barrier of unknown global optimal solutions due to the complexity of the problems. Following this rapid advancements, scientific communities shifted their attention towards the development of novel algorithms and techniques to satisfy their need in optimization. Among different research areas, astrodynamics and space engineering witnessed many trends in evolutionary algorithms for various types of problems. By having a look at the amount of publications regarding the development of meta-heuristics in aerospace sciences, it can be seen that a high amount of efforts are dedicated to develop novel stochastic techniques and more specifically, innovative evolutionary algorithms on a variety of subjects. In the past decade, one of the challenging problems in space engineering, which is tackled mainly by novel evolutionary algorithms by the researchers in the aerospace community is spacecraft trajectory optimization. Spacecraft trajectory optimization problem can be simply described as the discovery of a space trajectory for satellites and space vehicles that satisfies some criteria. While a space vehicle travels in space to reach a destination, either around the Earth or any other celestial body, it is crucial to maintain or change its flight path precisely to reach the desired final destination. Such travels between space orbits, called orbital maneuvers, need to be accomplished, while minimizing some objectives such as fuel consumption or the transfer time. In the engineering point of view, spacecraft trajectory optimization can be described as a black-box optimization problem, which can be constrained or unconstrained, depending on the formulation of the problem. In order to clarify the main motivation of the research in this thesis, first, it is necessary to discuss the status of the current trends in the development of evolutionary algorithms and tackling spacecraft trajectory optimization problems. Over the past decade, numerous research are dedicated to these subjects, mainly from two groups of scientific communities. The first group is the space engineering community. Having an overall look into the publications confirms that the focus in the developed methods in this group is mainly regarding the mathematical modeling and numerical approaches in dealing with spacecraft trajectory optimization problems. The majority of the strategies interact with mixed concepts of semi-analytical methods, discretization, interpolation and approximation techniques. When it comes to optimization, usually traditional algorithms are utilized and less attention is paid to the algorithm development. In some cases, researchers tried to tune the algorithms and make them more efficient. However, their efforts are mainly based on try-and-error and repetitions rather than analyzing the landscape of the optimization problem. The second group is the computer science community. Unlike the first group, the majority of the efforts in the research from this group has been dedicated to algorithm development, rather than developing novel techniques and approaches in trajectory optimization such as interpolation and approximation techniques. Research in this group generally ends in very efficient and robust optimization algorithms with high performance. However, they failed to put their algorithms in challenge with complex real-world optimization problems, with novel ideas as their model and approach. Instead, usually the standard optimization benchmark problems are selected to verify the algorithm performance. In particular, when it comes to solve a spacecraft trajectory optimization problem, this group mainly treats the problem as a black-box with not much concentration on the mathematical model or the approximation techniques. Taking into account the two aforementioned research perspectives, it can be seen that there is a missing link between these two schemes in dealing with spacecraft trajectory optimization problems. On one hand, we can see noticeable advances in mathematical models and approximation techniques on this subject, but with no efforts on the optimization algorithms. On the other hand, we have newly developed evolutionary algorithms for black-box optimization problems, which do not take advantage of novel approaches to increase the efficiency of the optimization process. In other words, there seems to be a missing connection between the characteristics of the problem in spacecraft trajectory optimization, which controls the shape of the solution domain, and the algorithm components, which controls the efficiency of the optimization process. This missing connection motivated us in developing efficient meta-heuristics for solving spacecraft trajectory optimization problems. By having the knowledge about the type of space mission, the features of the orbital maneuver, the mathematical modeling of the system dynamics, and the features of the employed approximation techniques, it is possible to adapt the performance of the algorithms. Knowing these features of the spacecraft trajectory optimization problem, the shape of the solution domain can be realized. In other words, it is possible to see how sensitive the problem is relative to each of its feature. This information can be used to develop efficient optimization algorithms with adaptive mechanisms, which take advantage of the features of the problem to conduct the optimization process toward better solutions. Such flexible adaptiveness, makes the algorithm robust to any changes of the space mission features. Therefore, within the perspective of space system design, the developed algorithms will be useful tools for obtaining optimal or near-optimal transfer trajectories within the conceptual and preliminary design of a spacecraft for a space mission. Having this motivation, the main goal in this research was the development of efficient meta-heuristics for spacecraft trajectory optimization. Regarding the type of the problem, we focused on space rendezvous problems, which covers the majority of orbital maneuvers, including long-range and short-range space rendezvous. Also, regarding the meta-heuristics, we concentrated mainly on evolutionary algorithms based on probabilistic modeling and hybridization. Following the research, two algorithms have been developed. First, a hybrid self adaptive evolutionary algorithm has been developed for multi-impulse long-range space rendezvous problems. The algorithm is a hybrid method, combined with auto-tuning techniques and an individual refinement procedure based on probabilistic distribution. Then, for the short-range space rendezvous trajectory optimization problems, an estimation of distribution algorithm with feasibility conserving mechanisms for constrained continuous optimization is developed. The proposed mechanisms implement seeding, learning and mapping methods within the optimization process. They include mixtures of probabilistic models, outlier detection algorithms and some heuristic techniques within the mapping process. Parallel to the development of algorithms, a simulation software is also developed as a complementary application. This tool is designed for visualization of the obtained results from the experiments in this research. It has been used mainly to obtain high-quality illustrations while simulating the trajectory of the spacecraft within the orbital maneuvers.