Spacecraft drag modelling

David Mostaza Prieto, Benjamin P. Graziano, Peter C E Roberts

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6038 Downloads (Pure)


    This paper reviews currently available methods to calculate drag coefficients of spacecraft traveling in low Earth orbits (LEO). Aerodynamic analysis of satellites is necessary to predict the drag force perturbation to their orbital trajectory, which for LEO orbits is the second in magnitude after the gravitational disturbance due to the Earth's oblateness. Historically, accurate determination of the spacecraft drag coefficient (CD) was rarely required. This fact was justified by the low fidelity of upper atmospheric models together with the lack of experimental validation of the theory. Therefore, the calculation effort was a priori not justified. However, advances on the field, such as new atmospheric models of improved precision, have allowed for a better characterization of the drag force. They have also addressed the importance of using physically consistent drag coefficients when performing aerodynamic calculations to improve analysis and validate theories. We review the most common approaches to predict these coefficients. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-65
    Number of pages9
    JournalProgress in Aerospace Sciences
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


    • Free molecular flow
    • Rarefied aerodynamics
    • Spacecraft drag


    Dive into the research topics of 'Spacecraft drag modelling'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this