Orbital dynamics of earth-orbiting 'smart dust' spacecraft under the effects of solar radiation pressure and aerodynamic drag

C. Colombo, C.R. McInnes

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This paper investigates how the perturbations due to asymmetric solar radiation pressure, in presence of Earth's shadow, and atmospheric drag can be balanced to obtain long-lived Earth centered orbits for swarms of SpaceChips, 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 a Sun-synchronous apse-line precession is achieved passively. The long-term evolution is characterized by librational motion, progressively decaying due to the non-conservative effect of atmospheric drag. Therefore, long-lived orbits can be designed through the interaction of energy gain from asymmetric solar radiation pressure and energy dissipation due to drag. In this way, the short life-time of 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 end-of life decay of SpaceChips, thus preventing long-lived orbit debris.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2010
EventAIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference 2010 - Toronto, Canada
Duration: 2 Aug 20105 Aug 2010


ConferenceAIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference 2010
CityToronto, Canada


  • asymmetric solar radiation pressure
  • atmospheric drag
  • Earth centered orbits
  • smart dust
  • spacecraft
  • orbital dynamics
  • orbit debris

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