Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy

, Volume 117, Issue 4, pp 385–404 | Cite as

Coupled orbit-attitude dynamics of high area-to-mass ratio (HAMR) objects: influence of solar radiation pressure, Earth’s shadow and the visibility in light curves

  • Carolin FrühEmail author
  • Thomas M. Kelecy
  • Moriba K. Jah
Original Article


The orbital and attitude dynamics of uncontrolled Earth orbiting objects are perturbed by a variety of sources. In research, emphasis has been put on operational space vehicles. Operational satellites typically have a relatively compact shape, and hence, a low area-to-mass ratio (AMR), and are in most cases actively or passively attitude stabilized. This enables one to treat the orbit and attitude propagation as decoupled problems, and in many cases the attitude dynamics can be neglected completely. The situation is different for space debris objects, which are in an uncontrolled attitude state. Furthermore, the assumption that a steady-state attitude motion can be averaged over data reduction intervals may no longer be valid. Additionally, a subset of the debris objects have significantly high area-to-mass ratio (HAMR) values, resulting in highly perturbed orbits, e.g. by solar radiation pressure, even if a stable AMR value is assumed. Note, this assumption implies a steady-state attitude such that the average cross-sectional area exposed to the sun is close to constant. Time-varying solar radiation pressure accelerations due to attitude variations will result in un-modeled errors in the state propagation. This work investigates the evolution of the coupled attitude and orbit motion of HAMR objects. Standardized pieces of multilayer insulation (MLI) are simulated in a near geosynchronous orbits. It is assumed that the objects are rigid bodies and are in uncontrolled attitude states. The integrated effects of the Earth gravitational field and solar radiation pressure on the attitude motion are investigated. The light curves that represent the observed brightness variations over time in a specific viewing direction are extracted. A sensor model is utilized to generate light curves with visibility constraints and magnitude uncertainties as observed by a standard ground based telescope. The photometric models will be needed when combining photometric and astrometric observations for estimation of orbit and attitude dynamics of non-resolved space objects.


Artificial satellites and spacecrafts Space debris Shadow models Visibility constraints 



The main author would like to thank Thomas Schildknecht for useful discussions. The work of the main author was supported by the National Research Council.

Supplementary material

10569_2013_9516_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 2001 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolin Früh
    • 1
    Email author
  • Thomas M. Kelecy
    • 2
  • Moriba K. Jah
    • 3
  1. 1.Air Force Research Laboratory, Space Vehicles DirectorateUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.The Boeing CompanyColorado SpringsUSA
  3. 3.Air Force Research Laboratory, Space Vehicles DirectorateKirtlandUSA

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