Physically consistent boundary conditions for free-molecular satellite aerodynamics
Parham, Jonathan Brent
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To determine satellite trajectories in low earth orbit, engineers need to adequately estimate aerodynamic forces. But to this day, such a task su↵ers from inexact values of drag forces acting on complicated shapes that form modern spacecraft. While some of the complications arise from the uncertainty in the upper atmosphere, this work focuses on the problems in modeling the flow interaction with the satellite geometry. The only numerical approach that accurately captures e↵ects in this flow regime—like self-shadowing and multiple molecular reflections—is known as Test Particle Monte Carlo. This method executes a ray-tracing algorithm to follow particles that pass through a control volume containing the spacecraft and accumulates the momentum transfer to the body surfaces. Statistical fluctuations inherent in the approach demand particle numbers on the order of millions, often making this scheme too costly to be practical. This work presents a parallel Test Particle Monte Carlo method that takes advantage of both graphics processing units and multi-core central processing units. The speed at which this model can run with millions of particles enabled the exploration of regimes where a flaw was revealed in the model’s initial particle seeding. A new model introduces an analytical fix to this flaw—consisting of initial position distributions at the boundary of a spherical control volume and an integral for the correct number flux—which is used to seed the calculation. This thesis includes validation of the proposed model using analytical solutions for several simple geometries and demonstrates uses of the method for the aero-stabilization of the Phobos-Grunt Martian probe and pose-estimation for the ICESat mission.