Rarefied gas effects on the aerodynamics of high area-to-mass ratio spacecraft in orbit

Craig White*, Camilla Colombo, Thomas J. Scanlon, Colin R. McInnes, Jason M. Reese

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The aerodynamic situation of a satellite-on-a-chip operating in low Earth orbit bears some resemblance to a classical Crookes radiometer. The large area-to-mass ratio characteristic of a SpaceChip means that very small surface-dependent forces produce non-negligible accelerations that can significantly alter its orbit. When the temperature of a SpaceChip changes, the drag force can be changed: if the temperature increases, the drag increases (and vice versa). Analytical expressions available in the literature that describe the change in drag coefficient with orbit altitude and SpaceChip temperature compare well with our direct simulation Monte Carlo results presented here. It is demonstrated that modifying the temperature of a SpaceChip could be used for relative orbit control of individual SpaceChips in a swarm, with a maximum change in position per orbit of 50 m being achievable at 600 km altitude.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2112-2124
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • SpaceChip
  • rarefied gas dynamics
  • DSMC
  • position control
  • perturbations
  • direct simulation Monte Carlo
  • simulation
  • space missions
  • orbits
  • Knudsen number
  • thermal transpiration
  • satellites
  • heat transfer


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