Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Space Systems


Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

William E. Wiesel, PhD


This project endeavors to find whether it is feasible to use an increase in surface area as a way of increasing the drag on an orbiting object, thus decreasing its orbital lifetime. The surface area increase can be achieved by an apparatus that deploys a balloon. The balloon will act as a parachute that will decrease the potential energy of the object through atmospheric drag. This is most effective by objects that reach the Low Earth altitudes of less than 500 kilometers, where an object is encountering a firmer atmospheric density. The project is carried out through propagating three different element sets to reentry using STK ®. The orbital paths generated by the software are then graphed in Excel ® and presented. The analysis is divided into four main studies. The first study focuses on confirming the effects the atmospheric instability has on the long term predictions of a natural decay. The second study explores how an increase in the scale of the drag, at different points in the orbital path, affects the reentry time. The third study investigates a specific increase of area to mass ratio (A/M) at different points in the trajectory. This is to survey changes in the variability of the reentry time prediction and how the reentry location's variability is altered. To finish off, the last study examines how A/M manipulation affects the reentry time prediction. The project discovered that an increase in A/M decreases the variability in reentry prediction. Furthermore, it discerns the exponential relationship between the time to reentry and the A/M.

AFIT Designator


DTIC Accession Number


Included in

Astrodynamics Commons