A review of gas-surface interaction models for orbital aerodynamics applications

Sabrina Livadiotti*, Nicholas H. Crisp, Peter C.E. Roberts, Stephen D. Worrall, Vitor T.A. Oiko, Steve Edmondson, Sarah J. Haigh, Claire Huyton, Katharine L. Smith, Luciana A. Sinpetru, Brandon E.A. Holmes, Jonathan Becedas, Rosa María Domínguez, Valentín Cañas, Simon Christensen, Anders Mølgaard, Jens Nielsen, Morten Bisgaard, Yung An Chan, Georg H. HerdrichFrancesco Romano, Stefanos Fasoulas, Constantin Traub, Daniel Garcia-Almiñana, Silvia Rodriguez-Donaire, Miquel Sureda, Dhiren Kataria, Badia Belkouchi, Alexis Conte, Jose Santiago Perez, Rachel Villain, Ron Outlaw

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Renewed interest in Very Low Earth Orbits (VLEO) - i.e. altitudes below 450 km - has led to an increased demand for accurate environment characterisation and aerodynamic force prediction. While the former requires knowledge of the mechanisms that drive density variations in the thermosphere, the latter also depends on the interactions between the gas-particles in the residual atmosphere and the surfaces exposed to the flow. The determination of the aerodynamic coefficients is hindered by the numerous uncertainties that characterise the physical processes occurring at the exposed surfaces. Several models have been produced over the last 60 years with the intent of combining accuracy with relatively simple implementations. In this paper the most popular models have been selected and reviewed using as discriminating factors relevance with regards to orbital aerodynamics applications and theoretical agreement with gas-beam experimental data. More sophisticated models were neglected, since their increased accuracy is generally accompanied by a substantial increase in computation times which is likely to be unsuitable for most space engineering applications. For the sake of clarity, a distinction was introduced between physical and scattering kernel theory based gas-surface interaction models. The physical model category comprises the Hard Cube model, the Soft Cube model and the Washboard model, while the scattering kernel family consists of the Maxwell model, the Nocilla-Hurlbut-Sherman model and the Cercignani-Lampis-Lord model. Limits and assets of each model have been discussed with regards to the context of this paper. Wherever possible, comments have been provided to help the reader to identify possible future challenges for gas-surface interaction science with regards to orbital aerodynamic applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100675
JournalProgress in Aerospace Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The DISCOVERER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 737183. Disclaimer: This publi-cation reflects only the views of the authors. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.


  • Gas-surface interaction
  • Orbital aerodynamics
  • Very low earth orbit


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