Bi-elliptic transfer

In astronautics and aerospace engineering, the bi-elliptic transfer is an orbital maneuver that moves a spacecraft from one orbit to another and may, in certain situations, require less delta-v than a Hohmann transfer maneuver.

A bi-elliptic transfer from a low circular starting orbit (blue) to a higher circular orbit (red)
Comparable Hohmann transfer orbit (2), from a low circular orbit (1) to a higher orbit (3)

The bi-elliptic transfer consists of two half-elliptic orbits. From the initial orbit, a first burn expends delta-v to boost the spacecraft into the first transfer orbit with an apoapsis at some point away from the central body. At this point a second burn sends the spacecraft into the second elliptical orbit with periapsis at the radius of the final desired orbit, where a third burn is performed, injecting the spacecraft into the desired orbit.[1]

While they require one more engine burn than a Hohmann transfer and generally require a greater travel time, some bi-elliptic transfers require a lower amount of total delta-v than a Hohmann transfer when the ratio of final to initial semi-major axis is 11.94 or greater, depending on the intermediate semi-major axis chosen.[2]

The idea of the bi-elliptical transfer trajectory was first[citation needed] published by Ary Sternfeld in 1934.[3]


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