What is it about?

Estimate of neutral density in the thermosphere (altitudes < 400 km) can be obtained by measuring forces and torques applying on a satellite along its orbit. We show that CubeSat missions in Low Earth orbit can obtain neutral density estimates through estimation of drag torque by using measurements of satellite rotation rates, attitude and orbits. We present an application to EntrySat mission that demonstrates capability of neutral density retrieval for altitudes below 200 km. The use CuebSats to obtain air density is opening a new way to measure this poorly known parameter.

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Why is it important?

Determination of air density high in the atmosphere is critical for satellite control and understanding the atmosphere dynamics. In addition this determination also allows to constrain some other event related phenomena (large quakes, tsunamis, magnetic storms, auroras...).


The improvement of CubeSat platforms and the large number of missions is offering many opportunities to perform the air density determination along the satellite track described in this study.

Raphael Garcia
Groupe ISAE

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This page is a summary of: Can We Estimate Air Density of the Thermosphere with CubeSats?, Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, March 2019, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA),
DOI: 10.2514/1.a34324.
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