Faculty Advisor

John Blandino

Faculty Advisor

Michael Demetriou

Faculty Advisor

Nikolaos Gatsonis

Faculty Advisor

Mark Richman


"Orbital flight of CubeSats in extremely Low Earth Orbit, defined here as an altitude between 150 – 250 km, has the potential to enable a wide range of missions in support of atmospheric measurements, national security, and natural resource monitoring. In this work, a mission study is presented to demonstrate the feasibility of using commercially available sensor and electric thruster technology to extend the orbital lifetime of a 3U CubeSat flying at an altitude of 210 km. The CubeSat consists of a 3U configuration and assumes the use of commercially available sensors, GPS, and electric power systems. The thruster is a de-rated version of a commercially available electrospray thruster operating at 2 W, 0.175 mN thrust, and an Isp of 500 s. The mission consists of two phases. In Phase I the CubeSat is deployed from the International Space Station orbit (414 km) and uses the thruster to de-orbit to the target altitude of 210 km. Phase II then begins during which the propulsion system is used to extend the mission lifetime until propellant is fully expended. A control algorithm based on maintaining a target orbital energy is presented in which simulated GPS updates are corrupted with measurement noise to simulate state data which would be available to the spacecraft computer. An Extended Kalman Filter is used to generate estimates of the orbital dynamic state between the 1 Hz GPS updates, allowing thruster control commands at a frequency of 10 Hz. For Phase I, operating at full thrust, the spacecraft requires 25.21 days to descend from 414 to 210 km, corresponding to a ΔV = 96.25 m/s and a propellant consumption of 77.8 g. Phase II, the primary mission phase, lasts for 57.83 days, corresponding to a ΔV = 119.15 m/s during which the remaining 94.2 g of propellant are consumed. "


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





GPS, thermosphere, LEO, CubeSat, electrospray, energy, orbital