Drag Reduction through Shape Optimisation for Satellites in Very Low Earth Orbit

Jonathan Walsh*, Lucy Berthoud, Christian Allen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
198 Downloads (Pure)


Operating satellites at altitudes in Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) has many advantages. However, due to the higher atmospheric density of this region, satellites encounter significantly higher atmospheric drag. Depending on the mission, this may require a propulsive system to maintain the orbit which costs both fuel mass and volume. It is therefore desirable to reduce the drag in order to either reduce these costs or to extend the operational life. In this paper a series of viable aeroshell profiles are identified for satellites operating in VLEO using a Radial Basis Function-based surrogate model with data generated using both Panel Methods and Discrete Simulation Monte Carlo simulations. It was demonstrated that a maximum drag reduction of between 21% and 35% was achievable for the profiles when optimizing a bi-conic profile for minimum drag based on Discreet Simulation Monte Carlo simulations with an energy accommodation coefficient of 0.95. Accounting for the loss of internal volume and assuming the reduction in fuel mass results in an equally proportioned reduction in fuel system volume it was observed that only a 13% to 27% reduction was achieved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-121
Number of pages17
JournalActa Astronautica
Early online date16 Sept 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sept 2020


  • VLEO
  • Shape Optimisation
  • Surrogate Modelling
  • DSMC


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