John J. Runco

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering


Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

Robert A. Bettinger, PhD

Third Advisor

Computational Fluid Dynamics, Monte Carlo Method, Small Satellites, Aerodynamic Characteristics, Equations of Motion, Artificial satellites, Experimental data


Computational aerothermodynamic analysis is presented for a spacecraft in low Earth orbit performing an atmospheric skip entry maneuver. Typically, atmospheric reentry is a terminal operation signaling mission end-of-life and, in some instances, executed for spacecraft disposal. A variation on reentry – skip entry – is an aeroassisted trans-atmospheric maneuver in which a spacecraft utilizes the effects of aerodynamic drag in order to reduce energy prior to a terminal entry, pinpoint a targeted entry, or change orbital elements such as inclination. Spacecraft performing a skip entry enable new modes of maneuver to enhance operations in nominal or possibly contested mission environments. The present research examines the aerothermodynamic effects of a skip entry trajectory for a small satellite to determine the survivability limits for potential future practical implementation by systems not intentionally designed to survive reentry. Due to the rarefied nature of the upper atmosphere, all fluid flow analysis is performed using SPARTA, a Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) solver. Satellite skip entry maneuvers should be survivable with skip perigees near the sensible atmosphere limit in an approximate altitude range of h∈ [90,120] km.

AFIT Designator


DTIC Accession Number