Istituto di Scienza e Tecnologie dell'Informazione     
Anselmo L., Pardini C. Present status of the neutral drag analysis on LARES and future activities. In: 5th LAser RAnged Satellites Experiment (LARASE) Workshop (IAPS/INAF, Area della Ricerca di Tor Vergata, Roma, 13 Dicembre 2016).
The laser-ranged satellite LARES is expected to provide new refined measurements of relativistic physics, as well as significant contributions to space geodesy and geophysics. The very low area-to-mass ratio of this passive and dense satellite was chosen to reduce as much as possible the disturbing effects of non-gravitational perturbations. However, because of its height, about 1450 km compared with about 5800-5900 km for the two LAGEOS satellites, LARES is exposed to a much stronger drag due to neutral atmosphere. From a precise orbit determination, analyzing the laser ranging normal points of LARES over a time span of about 3.7 years with the GEODYN II (NASA/GSFC) code, it was found an average semi-major axis decay rate of -0.999 m per year, corresponding to a non-conservative net force acting nearly opposite to the velocity vector of the satellite and with a mean along-track acceleration of -1.444 x 10-11 m/s^2. By means of a modified version of the SATRAP (ISTI/CNR) code, the neutral drag perturbation acting on LARES was evaluated over the same time span, taking into account the real evolution of solar and geomagnetic activities, with five thermospheric density models (JR-71, MSIS-86, MSISE-90, NRLMSISE-00 and GOST-2004). All of them were able to model most of the observed semi-major axis decay, with differences among the average drag coefficients smaller than 10%. Moreover, when the same models (JR-71 and MSIS-86) were used within GEODYN in a least-squares fit of the tracking data, the differences between the average drag coefficients estimated with SATRAP and GEODYN were of the order of 1% or less. Adding to this a further independent check carried out analyzing the orbital decay of a passive spherical satellite (Ajisai) just 40 km higher than LARES, it was then concluded that some of the currently best models developed for neutral atmosphere, within their uncertainties and range of applicability, were able to account for most (about 98.6%) of the observed semi-major axis decay of LARES. Finally, after modeling the neutral atmosphere drag in GEODYN, a residual semi-major axis decay, corresponding to an average along-track acceleration of about -2 x 10-13 m/s^2 (i.e. approximately 1/72 of neutral drag), was detected as well. It was 50%, or less, of that previously reported and is probably linked to thermal thrust effects, but further and more detailed investigations, including the detection of the signature of the periodic terms, will be needed in order to characterize such smaller non-gravitational perturbations.
Subject LARASE
Precise Orbit Determination
Semi-major Axis Decay
Neutral Atmosphere Drag
Non-Gravitational Perturbations
70F15 Celestial mechanics

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