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Constellation deployment using on-board propulsion is a cost-effective way for distributing multiple satellites into different orbital planes using a minimal number of launches. This paper focuses on the extension of previous studies based on analytical formulations of the problem into a more general numerically-based one, which can be applied to both electric and chemical propulsion systems. Additionally, the formulation is not restricted to in-plane maneuvers only, taking full advantage of the increased mobility capabilities of satellites equipped with high-efficiency propulsion systems. Two deployment methods are analyzed: the first is based on moving the satellites from the injection to the operational orbit sequentially with a properly timed delay between each maneuver so that the difference in nodal regression causes the accumulation of a given spacing; the second is built upon the parallel transfer of satellites into so called 'drift' orbits which, once again, exploiting the differential nodal drift, can be used to accumulate orbital plane spacing until a required value is met, and the satellites can be finally moved into their operational orbits. A multi-objective optimization based on the high-fidelity numerical computation of maneuvers using a feedback control law coupled with a genetic algorithm is proposed, presenting a framework capable of generating optimal solutions with respect to total constellation propellant mass needs and deployment time. An example of application based on the FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC mission is presented. The results highlight the potential of the optimization routine which is intended to be applied systematically by mission designers to generate solutions for the deployment problem within the context of constellation design. Some important and un-explored properties of the problem, such as, launcher-related injection constraints, the selection of a suitable propulsion technology and the effects of atmospheric drag are analyzed. The results show the effect of these properties on the optimality of the solutions, and highlight the advantage of a mixed in-plane/out-of-plane maneuver approach.
electric propulsion; multi-objective optimization; nodal regression; satellite constellation deployment