In my last post about Tianwen-1, I explained how on 2021-02-23 the spacecraft would enter an orbit with a period of 2 Mars sidereal days. This would give a repeating ground track with periapsis passages over the intended landing site in Utopia Planitia. Almost one month has passed since then and AMSAT-DL has continued to receive telemetry state vectors every day with the Bochum 20 meter antenna. This data allows us to study the orbit in detail, including orbit perturbations and any station-keeping manoeuvres that are done to maintain the orbit. This post is my first analysis of the current orbit.
Last Saturday 2021-02-20 at 11:46:42 UTC Tianwen-1 passed the periapsis of its elliptical polar orbit at Mars and made a retrograde burn to reduce its apoapsis radius. The trajectory planning of the spacecraft can be seen in its Wikipedia page: the spacecraft first arrived into a low inclination elliptical orbit by making a Mars orbit insertion at periapsis, then coasted to apoapsis, where it performed a plane change, and then it arrived at periapsis, performing the manoeuvre described in this post.
Over the next few days the spacecraft should move into a reconnaissance orbit, which is given in Wikipedia to be a 265 x 60000 km orbit (having a period of 2 days) with an inclination of 86.9 degrees. However, the last burn hasn’t lowered the apoapsis that much. The current orbit is approximately 280 x 84600 km (3.45 day period) with an inclination of 87.7 degrees. A possible reason for using the current orbit, which has been described as a phasing orbit, will be explained in this post after reviewing the data we have about the burn.
Today at 9:00 UTC Tianwen-1 made its plane change manoeuvre, as reported by Xinhua. Yesterday I showed my planning for this manoeuvre. Shortly after the spacecraft returned to the high gain antenna after the manoeuvre, the Bochum 20m antenna operated by AMSAT-DL received state vectors with the new trajectory. These state vectors allow us to calculate the timestamp of the burn and the delta-V vector, as I have done in other occasions. It is convenient to remark that the state vectors that we are seeing right now are probably a prediction. In the next few days we will see updates in the trajectory as the Chinese DSN measures the effects of the actual burn and updates the onboard ephemerides.
Today, the Chinese media published a short piece of news stating that tomorrow, 2021-02-15, Tiawen-1 will make make a plane change to a polar orbit. The post is accompanied by an short video, which includes an animation depicting the manoeuvre. A screenshot of the video is shown below. As the spacecraft arrives to apoapsis, it effects a plane change into an ascending polar orbit.
This is a good moment to review the maths behind a plane change manoeuvre and compute what the manoeuvre will look like.
A few days ago, Emirates Mars Mission (Hope), and Tianwen-1 performed their Mars orbit injection burn (MOI). AMSAT-DL made a livestream for each of the two events, showing the X-band signals of the spacecraft as received with the 20m antenna at Bochum.
In the case of Tianwen-1 the signal was pretty strong even while the spacecraft was on the low gain antenna, and we could clearly see the change in Doppler rate as the thrusters fired up. However, in the case of Emirates Mars Mission the signal disappeared as soon as the spacecraft switched to the low gain antenna. In fact DSN Now reported a received power of -155 dBm with the 34m DSS55. That was a large drop from the -118 dBm that it was reporting with the high gain antenna. Therefore, nothing could be seen in the livestream waterfall until the spacecraft returned to the high gain antenna, well after the manoeuvre was finished.
Nevertheless, a weak trace of the carrier was still present in the livestream audio, and it could be seen by appropriate FFT processing, for example with inspectrum. I put up a couple of tweets showing this, but at the moment I wasn’t completely sure if what I was seeing was the spacecraft’s signal or some interference. After the livestream ended, I’ve been able to analyse the audio more carefully and realize that not only this weak signal was in fact the Hope probe, but that the start of the burn was recorded in perfect conditions.
In this post I’ll show how to process the livestream audio to clearly show the change in drift rate at the start of the burn and measure the acceleration of the spacecraft.
Since launch, Tianwen-1 has transmitted as part of its telemetry some state vector data, giving its position and velocity vector every 32 seconds. This has allowed us to propagate, track and study its trajectory. We noticed the presence of the state vector data a few hours after launch, and since then we have received and decoded this data using the 20m antenna at Bochum observatory, which is operated by AMSAT-DL. This has allowed us to supply accurate orbit information to JPL HORIZONS, so that Amateur observers (and also some professional ones, for which Tianwen-1 is a useful and strong X-band beacon) can easily get ephemerides for the spacecraft.
Until now, the state vector data has encoded the spacecraft’s Cartesian position (in km) and velocity (in km/s) in a heliocentric reference frame. It is not completely clear if the frame is supposed to be ICRF or MJ2000, since the difference between the two is very small (see Section 3.5 in this paper by Kaplan) to be able to distinguish them with the data at hand, but we have always been using ICRF so far for consistency.
Today we have noticed that starting at some point on 2021-02-08, Tianwen-1 is now transmitting state vectors using a different, Mars-centric frame of reference. We don’t have the exact moment of the change. The last heliocentric vector we received was
2021-02-07 23:23:03.744100 18791639.655712113 211029173.8782428 96492674.05965108 -21.108400067542537 4.768376820024702 1.8445381918644286
This vector was received with one of the antennas at Allen Telescope Array, which I used as a backup since Bochum was unable to track that day due to a big snowfall.
The first Mars-centric state vector was received by Bochum the next day, and is
2021-02-08 22:14:25.049300 -345203.0840200648 103420.7793506239 -15761.456419116437 2.409386271990221 -0.7794198288828312 0.12118319008153547
The change in the frame of reference is clear from the change in magnitude of the position vector. Ensuring that the Mars-centric state vectors are interpreted correctly is important to continue using the data accurately. In this post I give the assessment of the appropriate reference system to use.
Today, 2021-02-05 at 12:00 UTC, Tianwen-1 has executed TCM-4. This is its last trajectory correction manoeuvre before the arrival to Mars orbit next Tuesday February 10. This was reported by Chinese media together with a black and white image of Mars taken recently by the spacecraft.
As usual, I have analysed this manoeuvre by propagating forwards the last state vector that we have from the spacecraft’s telemetry before the manoeuvre, propagating backwards the first state vector that we have after the manoeuvre, and finding the intersection point of the two trajectories.
Bill Gray, from Project Pluto is doing a great job trying to estimate the orbit of Chang’e 5 as it travels to somewhere around the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point (see my previous post). He is using RF pointing data from Amateur observers and the Allen Telescope Array, since the low elongation and the distance of the spacecraft have made it impossible to observe it optically.
For this task, the pointing data I am obtaining with my observations on Allen Telescope Array as part of the activities of the GNU Radio community there is quite valuable, since the 6.1 metre dishes give more accurate pointing measurements than the smaller dishes of Amateurs. The pointing data from ATA should be accurate to within 0.1 or 0.2 degrees.
To try to get more accurate data for Bill, last weekend I decided to do a recording with two dishes from the array, with the goal of using interferometry to obtain a much more precise pointing solution that what can be achieved with a single dish. This post is a report of the processing of the interferometric data.
If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably have seem that lately I’m quite busy with the Chang’e 5 mission, doing observations with Allen Telescope Array as part of the GNU Radio activities there and also following what other people such as Scott Tilley VE7TIL, Paul Marsh M0EYT, r00t.cz, Edgar Kaiser DF2MZ, USA Satcom, and even AMSAT-DL at Bochum are doing with their own observations. I have now a considerable backlog of posts to write, recordings to share and data to process. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep a steady stream of information coming out.
In this post I study the observation I did with Allen Telescope Array last Sunday 2019-11-29. During the observation, I was tweeting live the most interesting events. The observation is approximately 3 hours long and contains the LOI-2 (lunar orbit injection) manoeuvre near its end. LOI-2 was a burn that circularized the elliptical lunar orbit into an orbit with a height of approximately 207km over the lunar surface.
On 2020-10-28 at 14:00 UTC, Tianwen-1 has made its third trajectory correction manoeuvre. This has been the next manoeuvre after the deep space manoeuvre at the beginning of October. According to the press release, this was a firing of the eight 25N thrusters intended as a minor correction and as a test of this propulsion system. I haven’t found the duration of the burn in the news.
I have followed the same method as in previous burns to compute the moment of the burn and the delta-V vector by extrapolating the telemetry orbit state vectors received by AMSAT-DL in Bochum before and after the burn. This extrapolation locates the burn at 14:02:28 UTC. Note that this time is an approximation for the mid-point of the burn.
The delta-V vector was, in m/s
[-0.6575566 , -0.11513034, 1.97535319],
and the magnitude was 2.09m/s. Assuming a mass of 5000kg and eight 25N thrusters, it would take a burn of 52 seconds to achieve this delta-V.
Update 2020-10-30: according to this news article, the duration of the burn was 42.8 seconds which is some 18% smaller than my estimate. Note that my estimate didn’t take into account the mass of fuel spent by the deep space manoeuvre, which I estimated to be 457kg (giving a decrease in mass of 9%).
Apparently this burn has lowered the periares height significantly in comparison to the trajectory following the deep space manoeuvre, which was around 18000km. Thanks to Achim Vollhardt for noticing this. It’s difficult for me to give a good estimate of the new periares height, because it is quite sensitive to orbit perturbations. I’ve obtained anything between 30 and 800 km by enabling and disabling solar radiation pressure in the GMAT propagator, and we don’t have a good estimate of the spacecraft’s cross-section and reflection coefficient.
The figure below shows one of the GMAT simulations. Note that the periares is near the equator, which is good for insertion into a low inclination orbit.
Keep in mind that according to the media still one more trajectory correction manoeuvre remains and that the data used in this post comes straight from the spacecraft’s telemetry, and as such is most likely based on a prediction of the burn rather than on the actual performance of the burn. In a few days, I will publish a new post when the Chinese DSN perform precise orbit determination and upload updated orbital information to the spacecraft.
The data and plots for this post can be found in this Jupyter notebook.