The benefits of very low earth orbit for earth observation missions


Very low Earth orbits (VLEO), typically classified as orbits below approximately 450 km in altitude, have the potential to provide significant benefits to spacecraft over those that operate in higher altitude orbits. This paper provides a comprehensive review and analysis of these benefits to spacecraft operations in VLEO, with parametric investigation of those which apply specifically to Earth observation missions. The most significant benefit for optical imaging systems is that a reduction in orbital altitude improves spatial resolution for a similar payload specification. Alternatively mass and volume savings can be made whilst maintaining a given performance. Similarly, for radar and lidar systems, the signal-to-noise ratio can be improved. Additional benefits include improved geospatial position accuracy, improvements in communications link-budgets, and greater launch vehicle insertion capability. The collision risk with orbital debris and radiation environment can be shown to be improved in lower altitude orbits, whilst compliance with IADC guidelines for spacecraft post-mission lifetime and deorbit is also assisted. Finally, VLEO offers opportunities to exploit novel atmosphere-breathing electric propulsion systems and aerodynamic attitude and orbit control methods. However, key challenges associated with our understanding of the lower thermosphere, aerodynamic drag, the requirement to provide a meaningful orbital lifetime whilst minimising spacecraft mass and complexity, and atomic oxygen erosion still require further research. Given the scope for significant commercial, societal, and environmental impact which can be realised with higher performing Earth observation platforms, renewed research efforts to address the challenges associated with VLEO operations are required.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Engineering & Physical Sciences > School of Infrastructure and Sustainable Engineering > Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry
Funding Information: This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 737183 . This publication reflects only the view of the authors. The European Commission is not responsible for any use tha
Uncontrolled Keywords: Debris collision risk,Optical imaging,Orbital aerodynamics,Remote sensing,Synthetic aperture radar,Aerospace Engineering,Mechanics of Materials,Mechanical Engineering
Publication ISSN: 0376-0421
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2023 11:39
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2020 14:34
Full Text Link: https://arxiv.o ... /abs/2007.07699
Related URLs: http://www.scop ... tnerID=8YFLogxK (Scopus URL)
https://www.sci ... 0312?via%3Dihub (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2020-08-01
Accepted Date: 2020-04-24
Authors: Crisp, N. H.
Roberts, P. C.E.
Livadiotti, S.
Oiko, V. T.A.
Edmondson, S.
Haigh, S. J.
Huyton, C.
Sinpetru, L. A.
Smith, K. L.
Worrall, S. D. (ORCID Profile 0000-0003-1969-3671)
Becedas, J.
Domínguez, R. M.
González, D.
Hanessian, V.
Mølgaard, A.
Nielsen, J.
Bisgaard, M.
Chan, Y. A.
Fasoulas, S.
Herdrich, G. H.
Romano, F.
Traub, C.
García-Almiñana, D.
Rodríguez-Donaire, S.
Sureda, M.
Kataria, D.
Outlaw, R.
Belkouchi, B.
Conte, A.
Perez, J. S.
Villain, R.
Heißerer, B.
Schwalber, A.



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