High-fidelity geometry models for improving the consistency of CHAMP, GRACE, GOCE and Swarm thermospheric density data sets

G. March, E. N. Doornbos, P. N.A.M. Visser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


During the last two decades, accelerometers on board of the CHAMP, GRACE, GOCE and Swarm satellites have provided high-resolution thermosphere density data to improve our knowledge on atmospheric dynamics and coupling processes in the thermosphere-ionosphere region. Most users of the data have focused on relative density variations. Scale differences between datasets and models have been largely neglected or removed using ad hoc scale factors. The origin of these scale differences arises from errors in the aerodynamic modelling, specifically in the modelling of the satellite outer surface geometry and of the gas-surface interactions. Therefore, the first step to remove the scale differences is to enhance the geometry modelling. This work forms the foundation for the future improvement of characterization of satellite aerodynamics and gas-surface interactions models at TU Delft, as well as for extending the use of sideways and angular accelerations in the aerodynamic analysis of accelerations and derivation of thermosphere datasets. Although work to improve geometry and aerodynamic force models by other authors has focused on CHAMP and GRACE, this paper includes the GOCE and Swarm satellites as well. In addition, it uses a density determination algorithm that is valid for arbitrary attitude orientations, enabling a validation making use of attitude manoeuvres. The results show an improvement in the consistency of density data between these four missions, and of data obtained before, during and after attitude manoeuvres of CHAMP and Swarm. The new models result in larger densities, compared to the previously used panel method. The largest average rescaling of density, by switching to the new geometry models is reached for Swarm at 32%, the smallest for GRACE at 5%. For CHAMP and GOCE, mean differences of 11% and 9% are obtained respectively. In this paper, an overview of the improvements and comparisons of data sets is provided together with an introduction to the next research phase on the gas-surface interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-238
Number of pages26
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Accelerometer
  • Aerodynamic modelling
  • Atmospheric drag
  • Density
  • DSMC
  • Geometry modelling
  • Thermosphere


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