Orbital Optimization: Very Low Earth Orbit Satellites through Advanced Propulsion and Aerodynamic Design

In the ever-evolving landscape of space exploration, the need for sustainable and efficient maintenance of satellites has become increasingly critical. This project addresses the challenge of developing a comprehensive study aimed at determining the optimal orbital regime for prolonged functionality, specifically focusing on Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO), which lies well below 400 km. The emphasis is placed on propulsion capabilities and the associated consequences for the receiving platform, taking into consideration both the advantages of favorable aerodynamic factors adapted to VLEO and the challenges posed by an unfavorable environment, particularly during the maximum solar cycle. The overarching goal is to conduct a detailed examination that goes beyond immediate concerns and paves the way for a conceptual leap towards the construction of more massive satellites, aligning with the anticipated evolution of launch capacities in the medium term.


  • Propulsion Capabilities Assessment: Conduct an in-depth analysis of various propulsion systems for operation in VLEO, considering factors such as efficiency, fuel consumption, and adaptability to the specific challenges posed by this orbital regime.
  • Platform Consequences Evaluation: Investigate the impact of the selected propulsion systems on the receiving platform, focusing on structural integrity, thermal management, and overall performance.
  • Aerodynamic Considerations: Explore and incorporate aerodynamic elements conducive to VLEO, ensuring the satellite’s shape is optimized for enhanced stability and performance. This involves adapting the satellite’s design to navigate through the challenges posed by the low altitude and atmospheric conditions.
  • Solar Cycle Resilience: Assess the satellite’s resilience and functionality during the maximum solar cycle, addressing potential challenges such as increased radiation exposure and the impact on both propulsion and platform systems.
  • Dimensional Analysis: Analyze the dimensional aspects resulting from the integration of propulsion capabilities, aerodynamic considerations, and solar cycle resilience, with a focus on achieving sustainable maintenance for a minimum period of three years.

Required skills

Space Engineering and Technology: Understanding of satellite systems, orbital mechanics, and space engineering principles. Familiarity with propulsion technologies, including chemical and electric propulsion systems.

Aerospace Design and Modeling: Proficiency in aerospace design software for modeling and simulation. Ability to design and optimize satellite shapes for specific orbital environments, considering aerodynamic factors.

Systems Analysis and Integration: Strong analytical skills for assessing the interplay between propulsion, platform consequences, aerodynamics, and solar cycle resilience. Ability to integrate various system components into a cohesive and functional satellite design.

Materials and Structural Engineering: Knowledge of materials suitable for space applications and their structural properties. Understanding of how materials and structures respond to the unique challenges of VLEO, including thermal variations and radiation exposure.

Physics and Environmental Factors: Understanding of the physics of low Earth orbit and the environmental factors that impact satellite operation. Familiarity with the effects of solar cycles on satellite systems and strategies for mitigating associated challenges.

Programming and Data Analysis: Proficiency in programming languages for data analysis and simulation purposes. Skills in handling and interpreting data generated from simulations and experiments.

These skills will enable students to actively contribute to the comprehensive study and make meaningful advancements in the conceptualization of satellites optimized for Very Low Earth Orbit.

Place of work

The student will have the opportunity to work in a stimulating environment with other students in different locations (Lausanne, Bern, Zurich) in Switzerland depending on the needs of the projects.



  • Propulsion Report: A detailed report outlining the analysis of various propulsion systems suitable for VLEO, including recommendations based on performance metrics and adaptability.
  • Platform Impact Assessment: A comprehensive evaluation of the consequences of selected propulsion systems on the satellite platform, with recommendations for structural enhancements and system optimizations.
  • Aerodynamic Design Guidelines: Guidelines and design specifications for adapting the satellite’s shape to VLEO, incorporating favorable aerodynamic factors to enhance stability and overall performance.
  • Solar Cycle Resilience Framework: A framework detailing strategies and mechanisms to ensure the satellite’s resilience during the maximum solar cycle, addressing challenges associated with increased radiation exposure.
  • Dimensional Elements Report: A report presenting the dimensional analysis results, outlining the integrated design elements that contribute to maintenance in VLEO for a minimum of three years.