The dynamical structure of the MEO region: long-term stability, chaos, and transport

Jérôme Daquin, Aaron J. Rosengren, Elisa Maria Alessi, Florent Deleflie, Giovanni B. Valsecchi, Alessandro Rossi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has long been suspected that the Global Navigation Satellite Systems exist in a background of complex resonances and chaotic motion; yet, the precise dynamical character of these phenomena remains elusive. Recent studies have shown that the occurrence and nature of the resonances driving these dynamics depend chiefly on the frequencies of nodal and apsidal precession and the rate of regression of the Moon’s nodes. Woven throughout the inclination and eccentricity phase space is an exceedingly complicated web-like structure of lunisolar secular resonances, which become particularly dense near the inclinations of the navigation satellite orbits. A clear picture of the physical significance of these resonances is of considerable practical interest for the design of disposal strategies for the four constellations. Here we present analytical and semi-analytical models that accurately reflect the true nature of the resonant interactions, and trace the topological organization of the manifolds on which the chaotic motions take place. We present an atlas of FLI stability maps, showing the extent of the chaotic regions of the phase space, computed through a hierarchy of more realistic, and more complicated, models, and compare the chaotic zones in these charts with the analytical estimation of the width of the chaotic layers from the heuristic Chirikov resonance-overlap criterion. As the semi-major axis of the satellite is receding, we observe a transition from stable Nekhoroshev-like structures at three Earth radii, where regular orbits dominate, to a Chirikov regime where resonances overlap at five Earth radii. From a numerical estimation of the Lyapunov times, we find that many of the inclined, nearly circular orbits of the navigation satellites are strongly chaotic and that their dynamics are unpredictable on decadal timescales.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-366
Number of pages32
JournalCelestial Mechanics & Dynamical Astronomy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Chaos
  • Fast Lyapunov indicators (FLI)
  • GNSS
  • Lunisolar resonances
  • Medium-Earth orbits
  • Orbital resonances
  • Secular dynamics
  • Stability maps


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