A passive high altitude deorbiting strategy

Charlotte Lucking, Camilla Colombo, Colin McInnes

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

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A deorbiting strategy for small satellites, in particular CubeSats, is proposed which 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 shows the evolution of an initially circular orbit. The maximum reachable orbit eccentricity as a function of semi-major axis and area-to-mass ratio can be found and used to determine the size of balloon required for deorbiting from circular orbits of different altitudes. A system design of the device is performed and the feasibility of the proposed deorbiting strategy is assessed and compared to the use of conventional thrusters. The use of solar radiation pressure to increase the orbit eccentricity enables passive deorbiting from significantly higher altitudes than conventional drag augmentation devices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2011
Event25th Annual IAA/USU Conference on Small satellites - Logan, Utah, , United States
Duration: 8 Aug 201111 Aug 2011


Conference25th Annual IAA/USU Conference on Small satellites
CountryUnited States
CityLogan, Utah,


  • deorbiting strategy
  • small satellites
  • CubeSats
  • analytical model
  • orbit eccentricity
  • solar radiation pressure

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