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Orbit evolution, maintenance and disposal of SpaceChip swarms through electro-chromic control

Colombo, Camilla and Lucking, Charlotte and McInnes, Colin (2013) Orbit evolution, maintenance and disposal of SpaceChip swarms through electro-chromic control. Acta Astronautica, 82 (1). pp. 25-37. ISSN 0094-5765

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Abstract

The combined effect of solar radiation pressure, Earth oblateness and atmospheric drag on the orbital dynamics of satellites-on-a-chip (SpaceChips) is investigated for future swarm mission concepts. The natural evolution of the swarm is exploited to perform spatially distributed measurements of the upper layers of the atmosphere. The energy gain from asymmetric solar radiation pressure can be used to balance the energy dissipation from atmospheric drag. An algorithm for long-term orbit control is then designed, based on changing the reflectivity coefficient of the SpaceChips. The subsequent modulation of the solar radiation pressure allows stabilisation of the swarm in the orbital element phase space. It is shown that the orbit lifetime for such devices can be extended through the interaction of solar radiation pressure and atmospheric drag and indeed selected and the end-of-life re-entry of the swarm can be ensured, by exploiting atmospheric drag.