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Air Resistance approximation re-entry

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Hi guys, sorry if this is the wrong place to post, but nearest I could find.


I have been thinking about the air resistance and subsequent heat generated when a spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere. In the past I have done A level physics and maths, but we always neglected air resistance. 


How would you go about approximating the drag on a lander as it comes down through the atmosphere? I do not need an exact calculation, I imagine a good approximation would depend on the velocity and surface area of the lander, as well as the density of the air.


I am also interested about the heat generated from friction, though this is less important more of a curiosity. I am familiar with the very basics of thermodynamics, but I do not remember dealing with surface areas, which I assume will be very important regarding the rate of heat transfer.


I realise this is kind of a vague question, just really looking for some avenues to explore.


Thanks for reading.

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This should give you a pretty good idea of what is involved (or at least, what terms to search for).




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Here is the basic formula for air drag:


Fd = 0.5 * Cd * Rho * Velocity^2 * A




*Fd is the drag force in newtons, applied to the opposite direction of the velocity.


*Cd is the coefficient of drag - this is determined in wind tunnel test. It is a constant which you can tweak to your preference, but there are some examples of the Cd of different primitives to be found here:


*Rho is the density of air. This can be tricky since it changes with temperature, and temperature drops at higher altitudes. Air humidity also affects density. I don't know the exact equation for this, but i suggest you use a constant air humidity, and then sample data from this calculator ( and then make a function out of these points. You might have to find samples of air temerature at different altitudes aswell, but that should not be hard.


*Velocity relative to the airflow.


*A is the reference area in square meters.

Edited by Mizmoon

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