Long term dynamics of space debris orbits including Earth’s shadows

  • Charles Hubaux

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Sciences


A huge amount of space debris are currently orbiting the Earth. Understanding the motion of such uncontrolled objects is of great importance in order to reduce the risks of hypervelocity impacts with manned and unmanned spacecraft. In this work, we present an accurate symplectic integration scheme to numerically propagate space debris orbits over long periods of time. Among the perturbations that influence debris motion, this thesis mainly brings new results about the effects of solar radiation pressure on debris characterized by high area-to-mass ratios. In this case, Earth’s shadow crossings cannot be neglected. Hence we propose an innovative method that successfully models shadow crossings and does not break the symplectic properties of our propagator. Both cylindrical and conical shadows are considered. We show that the cylindrical model is only a poor approximation of the more realistic conical model, especially for high area-to-mass ratios. Thanks to both numerical and semi-analytical techniques, we then explain how shadow crossings are responsible for large periodic deviations from the initial condition. Finally an analysis is presented to highlight the strong influence of shadow crossings on the stability of high area-to-mass space debris located around the geostationary altitude.
Date of Award17 Jun 2013
Original languageFrench
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SupervisorAnne LEMAITRE (Supervisor), Timoteo Carletti (President), Alessandra ROSSI (Jury), Florent Deleflie (Jury), Jean Charles Delvenne (Jury) & Klaus MERZ (Jury)

Cite this

Long term dynamics of space debris orbits including Earth’s shadows
Hubaux, C. (Author). 17 Jun 2013

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Sciences