GRACE-FO radiation pressure modelling for accurate density and crosswind retrieval

N. A. Hładczuk*, J. van den IJssel, T. Kodikara, C. Siemes, P. Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Uncertainties in radiation pressure modelling play a significant role in the thermospheric density and crosswind observations derived from the GRACE-FO accelerometer, especially during low solar activity. Under such conditions, the radiation pressure acceleration matches the magnitude of the aerodynamic acceleration along the track and exceeds it in the cross-track direction. The GRACE-FO mission has been operating for several years at such high altitudes during both low and rising solar activity, providing a perfect opportunity to study the effects of radiation pressure. This research uses ray tracing based on a high-fidelity satellite geometry model to calculate the radiation pressure acceleration. We numerically fine-tuned the coefficients describing the thermo-optical surface properties to obtain more accurate radiation pressure accelerations than those specified in the GRACE-FO mission manual. We also used in situ temperature measurements from thermistors on the solar arrays to model the satellite's thermal emission. These temperature measurements allowed a realistic setup of the thermal model, extended by the parameter describing the efficiency of the solar cells, and reproduced the acceleration of the thermal emission with an accuracy of RMS 0.148 nms−2. The combination of the updated thermal model and the fine-tuning of the surface coefficients improved the accuracy of the crosswind acceleration to an RMS of 0.55 nms−2, compared to an RMS of 4.22 nms−2 when using panel models and instantaneous thermal radiation. We compared the observed crosswind with two models: HWM14 and TIE-GCM. While both models capture most of the salient features of the observed crosswind, HWM14 shows particularly good agreement at high latitudes. Compared to the previously employed radiation pressure model, the crosswind observations have been improved in low and mid-latitudes, especially during periods of higher solar activity. Since the effect of radiation pressure is most significant in the crosswind direction, the effect on density was small compared to previously published datasets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2355-2373
Number of pages19
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2024


  • Neutral mass density
  • Neutral winds
  • Radiation pressure
  • Thermal emission
  • Thermosphere


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