Modeling satellite drag coefficients with response surfaces

Piyush M. Mehta, Andrew Walker, Earl Lawrence, Richard Linares, David Higdon, Josef Koller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Satellite drag coefficients are a major source of uncertainty in predicting the drag force on satellites in low Earth orbit. Among other things, accurately predicting the orbit requires detailed knowledge of the satellite drag coefficient. Computational methods are an important tool in computing the drag coefficient but are too intensive for real-time and predictive applications. Therefore, analytic or empirical models that can accurately predict drag coefficients are desired. This work uses response surfaces to model drag coefficients. The response surface methodology is validated by developing a response surface model for the drag coefficient of a sphere where the closed-form solution is known. The response surface model performs well in predicting the drag coefficient of a sphere with a root mean square percentage error less than 0.3% over the entire parameter space. For more complex geometries, such as the GRACE satellite, the Hubble Space Telescope, and the International Space Station, the model errors are only slightly larger at about 0.9%, 0.6%, and 1.0%, respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1590-1607
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for this work was provided by the US Department of Energy through the Los Alamos National Laboratory/Laboratory Directed Research and Development program as part of the IMPACT (Integrated Modeling of Perturbations in Atmospheres for Conjunction Tracking) project. The authors would also like to thank the Los Alamos National Laboratory Institutional Computing for the computational resources utilized for the simulations. The authors would also like to thank UCAR for providing the CDAAC precise orbit data.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 COSPAR. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2019 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Drag modeling
  • Hubble Space Telescope
  • ISS
  • Response surface
  • Satellite drag modeling

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