Stochastic Analysis of Orbital Lifetimes of Spacecraft

A document discusses (1) a Monte-Carlo-based methodology for probabilistic prediction and analysis of orbital lifetimes of spacecraft and (2) Orbital Lifetime Monte Carlo (OLMC) — a Fortran computer program, consisting of a previously developed long-term orbit-propagator integrated with a Monte Carlo engine.

OLMC enables modeling of variances of key physical parameters that affect orbital lifetimes through the use of probability distributions. These parameters include altitude, speed, and flight-path angle at insertion into orbit; solar flux; and launch delays. The products of OLMC are predicted lifetimes (durations above specified minimum altitudes) for the number of user-specified cases. Histograms generated from such predictions can be used to determine the probabilities that spacecraft will satisfy lifetime requirements.

The document discusses uncertainties that affect modeling of orbital lifetimes. Issues of repeatability, smoothness of distributions, and code run time are considered for the purpose of establishing values of code-specific parameters and number of Monte Carlo runs. Results from test cases are interpreted as demonstrating that solar-flux predictions are primary sources of variations in predicted lifetimes. Therefore, it is concluded, multiple sets of predictions should be utilized to fully characterize the lifetime range of a spacecraft.

This work was done by Washito Sasamoto of Langley Research Center and Kandyce Goodliff and David Cornelius of Analytical Mechanics Associates, Inc.

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