Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics

First Advisor

Jonathan T. Black, PhD.


Comprised of exo- and trans-atmospheric trajectory segments, atmospheric re-entry represents a complex dynamical event which traditionally signals the mission end-of-life for low-Earth orbit spacecraft. Transcending this paradigm, atmospheric re-entry can be employed as a means of operational maneuver whereby aerodynamic forces can be exploited to create an aeroassisted maneuver. Utilizing a notional trans-atmospheric, lifting re-entry vehicle with L/D =6, the first phase of research demonstrates the terrestrial reachability potential for skip entry aeroassisted maneuvers. By overflying a geographically diverse set of ground targets, comparative analysis indicates a significant savings in delta V expenditure for skip entry compared with exo-atmospheric maneuvers. In the second phase, the Design of Experiments method of orthogonal arrays provides optimal vehicle and skip entry trajectory designs by employing main effects and Pareto front analysis. Depending on re-circularization altitude, the coupled optimal design can achieve an inclination change of 19.91° with 50-85% less delta V than a simple plane change. Finally, the third phase introduces the descent-boost aeroassisted maneuver as an alternative to combined Hohmann and bi-elliptic transfers in order to perform LEO injection. Compared with bi-elliptic transfers, simulations demonstrate that a lifting re-entry vehicle performing a descent-boost maneuver requires 6-12% less for injection into orbits lower than 650 km. In addition, the third phase also introduces the Maneuver Performance Number as a dimensionless means of comparative maneuver effectiveness analysis.

AFIT Designator


DTIC Accession Number