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Orbit design for future SpaceChip swarm missions in a planetary atmosphere

Colombo, Camilla and McInnes, Colin (2012) Orbit design for future SpaceChip swarm missions in a planetary atmosphere. Acta Astronautica, 75. pp. 25-41. ISSN 0094-5765

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Abstract

The effect of solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag on the orbital dynamics of satellites-on-a-chip (SpaceChips) is exploited to design equatorial long-lived orbits about the oblate Earth. The orbit energy gain due to asymmetric solar radiation pressure, considering the Earth's shadow, is used to balance the energy loss due to atmospheric drag. Future missions for a swarm of SpaceChips are proposed, where a number of small devices are released from a conventional spacecraft to perform spatially distributed measurements of the conditions in the ionosphere and exosphere. It is shown that the orbit lifetime can be extended and indeed selected through solar radiation pressure and the end-of-life re-entry of the swarm can be ensured, by exploiting atmospheric drag.