Orbital dynamics of 'smart dust' devices with solar radiation pressure and drag

Camilla Colombo, Colin McInnes

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This paper investigates how perturbations due to asymmetric solar radiation pressure, in the presence of Earth shadow, and atmospheric drag can be balanced to obtain long-lived Earth centred orbits for swarms of micro-scale 'smart dust' devices, without the use of active control. The secular variation of Keplerian elements is expressed analytically through an averaging technique. Families of solutions are then identified where Sun-synchronous apse-line precession is achieved passively to maintain asymmetric solar radiation pressure. The long-term orbit evolution is characterized by librational motion, progressively decaying due to the non-conservative effect of atmospheric drag. Long-lived orbits can then be designed through the interaction of energy gain from asymmetric solar radiation pressure and energy dissipation due to drag. In this way, the usual short drag lifetime of such high area-to-mass spacecraft can be greatly extended (and indeed selected). In addition, the effect of atmospheric drag can be exploited to ensure the rapid end-of-life decay of such devices, thus preventing long-lived orbit debris.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1613-1631
JournalJournal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • solar radiation pressure
  • atomspheric drag
  • equilibrium orbit
  • MEMS
  • SpaceChip
  • ChipSat

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