Science China Technological Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 2, pp 204–211 | Cite as

Atmospheric density determination using high-accuracy satellite GPS data



Atmospheric drag is the main source of error in the determination and prediction of the orbit of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites; however, empirical models that are used to account for this often have density errors of around 15%–30%. Atmospheric density determination has thus become an important topic for researchers. Based on the relationship between the atmospheric drag force and the decay of the semi-major axis of the orbit, we derived atmospheric density along the trajectory of challenging mini-satellite payload (CHAMP) satellite with its rapid science orbit (RSO) data. Three primary parameters—the ratio of cross-sectional area to mass, the drag coefficient, and the decay of the semi-major axis caused by atmospheric drag—were calculated. We also analyse the source of the error and made a comparison between the GPS-derived and reference density. The result for December 2, 2008, showed that the mean error of the GPS-derived density could be decreased from 29.21% to 9.20%, if the time span adopted for the process of computation was increased from 10 min to 50 min. The result for the entire month of December indicated that a density precision of 10% could be achieved, when the time span meets the condition that the amplitude of the decay of the semi-major axis is much greater than its standard deviation.


atmospheric density determination high-accuracy GPS data drag coefficient orbit decay 


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Space Science CenterChinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.College of Earth SciencesUniversity of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina

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