A passive satellite deorbiting strategy for medium Earth orbit using solar radiation pressure and the J(2) effect

Charlotte Lucking, Camilla Colombo, Colin McInnes

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The growing population of space debris poses a serious risk to the future of space flight. To effectively manage the increase of debris in orbit, end-of life disposal has become a key requirement for future missions. This poses
a challenge for Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) spacecraft which require a large Δv to re-enter the atmosphere or reach the geostationary graveyard orbit. This paper further explores a passive strategy based on the joint effects of solar radiation pressure and the Earth’s oblateness acting on a high area-to-mass ratio object. The concept was previously presented as an analytical planar model. This paper uses a full 3D model to validate the analytical results numerically for equatorial circular orbits first, then investigating higher inclinations. It is shown that for
higher inclinations the initial position of the Sun and right ascension of the ascending node become increasingly important. A region of very low required area-to-mass ratio is identified in the parameter space of a and inclination which occurs for altitudes below 10,000 km.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-206
JournalActa Astronautica
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012



  • satellite trajectory
  • deorbiting strategy
  • MEO
  • solar radiation pressure

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