Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

Michael J. Grant

Committee Member 1

James M. Longuski

Committee Member 2

William A. Crossley


Trajectory optimization is a field which can benefit greatly from the advantages offered by parallel computing. The current state-of-the-art in trajectory optimization focuses on the use of direct optimization methods, such as the pseudo-spectral method. These methods are favored due to their ease of implementation and large convergence regions while indirect methods have largely been ignored in the literature in the past decade except for specific applications in astrodynamics. It has been shown that the shortcomings conventionally associated with indirect methods can be overcome by the use of a continuation method in which complex trajectory solutions are obtained by solving a sequence of progressively difficult optimization problems. High performance computing hardware is trending towards more parallel architectures as opposed to powerful single-core processors. Graphics Processing Units (GPU), which were originally developed for 3D graphics rendering have gained popularity in the past decade as high-performance, programmable parallel processors. The Compute Unified Device Architecture (CUDA) framework, a parallel computing architecture and programming model developed by NVIDIA, is one of the most widely used platforms in GPU computing. GPUs have been applied to a wide range of fields that require the solution of complex, computationally demanding problems. A GPU-accelerated indirect trajectory optimization methodology which uses the multiple shooting method and continuation is developed using the CUDA platform. The various algorithmic optimizations used to exploit the parallelism inherent in the indirect shooting method are described. The resulting rapid optimal control framework enables the construction of high quality optimal trajectories that satisfy problem-specific constraints and fully satisfy the necessary conditions of optimality. The benefits of the framework are highlighted by construction of maximum terminal velocity trajectories for a hypothetical long range weapon system. The techniques used to construct an initial guess from an analytic near-ballistic trajectory and the methods used to formulate the necessary conditions of optimality in a manner that is transparent to the designer are discussed. Various hypothetical mission scenarios that enforce different combinations of initial, terminal, interior point and path constraints demonstrate the rapid construction of complex trajectories without requiring any a-priori insight into the structure of the solutions. Trajectory problems of this kind were previously considered impractical to solve using indirect methods. The performance of the GPU-accelerated solver is found to be 2x--4x faster than MATLAB's bvp4c, even while running on GPU hardware that is five years behind the state-of-the-art.