Effect of Ion Thruster Plume-Thermosphere Interaction on Satellite Drag in Very Low Earth Orbit

Shaun Andrews*, Lucy Berthoud

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paperpeer-review

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This work presents a study of the interactions of an ion thruster plume within the thermosphere of Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO), in the context of a drag-compensation mission. VLEO is a highly appealing region for spacecraft operations, as reducing the operational altitude of remote sensing payloads improves radiometric performance and spatial resolution, whilst reducing the size, mass, power requirement and cost of instruments. The analysis is performed with a hybrid Direct Simulation Monte-Carlo/Particle-in-Cell (DSMC-PIC) code and includes a variable hard sphere model to calculate elastic cross sections for Xe-thermosphere momentum collisions and analytical approaches to infer Xe+-thermosphere charge-exchange cross sections. The effect on the satellite coefficient of drag is determined, and it is shown that aerodynamic models of VLEO satellites are incomplete without the inclusion of plume interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress - Washington D.C., United States
Duration: 21 Oct 201925 Oct 2019
Conference number: 70


Conference70th International Astronautical Congress
Abbreviated titleIAC
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityWashington D.C.
Internet address


  • Ion thrusters
  • Orbital Aerodynamics
  • Direct Simulation Monte Carlo
  • Electrostatic Particle in Cell
  • Very low earth orbit
  • Drag-compensation
  • Electric Propulsion


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