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Solar radiation pressure-augmented deorbiting : Passive end-of-life disposal from high-altitude orbits

Bewick, Charlotte and Colombo, Camilla and McInnes, Colin (2013) Solar radiation pressure-augmented deorbiting : Passive end-of-life disposal from high-altitude orbits. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, 50 (6). pp. 1256-1267. ISSN 0022-4650

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    Abstract

    A deorbiting strategy for small satellites is proposed that exploits the effect of solar radiation pressure to increase the spacecraft orbit eccentricity so that the perigee falls below an altitude where atmospheric drag will cause the spacecraft orbit to naturally decay. This is achieved by fitting the spacecraft with an inflatable reflective balloon. Once this is fully deployed, the overall area-to-mass ratio of the spacecraft is increased; hence, solar radiation pressure and aerodynamic drag have a greatly increased effect on the spacecraft orbit. An analytical model of the orbit evolution due to solar radiation pressure and the J2 effect as a Hamiltonian system show the evolution of an initially circular orbit. The maximum reachable orbit eccentricity as a function of semi major axis and area-to-mass ratio is found analytically for deorbiting from circular equatorial orbits of different altitudes. The analytical planar model is then adapted for sun-synchronous orbits. The model is validated numerically and verified for three test cases using a high accuracy orbit propagator. The regions of orbits for which solar radiation pressure-augmented deorbiting is most effective are identified. Finally, different options for the design of the deorbiting device are discussed.