Framework for Analyzing the Complex Interactions Between Spacecraft Motion and Slosh Dynamics in Low-G Environments

William J Elke, Jing Pei, Carlos M. Roithmayr, Ryan J. Caverly

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The fuel-to-dry-mass ratio of spacecraft continues to grow as new human spaceflight missions target destinations farther from Earth. Large amounts of liquid propellant can lead to significant coupling between the rigid-body dynamics of the spacecraft and the motion of the fuel within its propellant tank. The present work gives an overview of the dynamic features and a flowchart for a method of simulating the motion of a spacecraft with fuel slosh inside a cylindrical, domed tank in a low-g environment. The method involves modeling the liquid propellant as a particle that transfers momentum to the spacecraft through perfectly inelastic collisions with the tank wall. The foundation of the modeling methodology is the approach taken during the Apollo program to predict the effect of fuel slosh on the complex motion exhibited by the Service Module following separation from the Command Module. This paper discusses the motivation, methodology, and conclusions from the Apollo-era method, presents corrections to the derivation of the dynamics, and fills in the gaps left from the unavailability of the detailed contractor report and simulation code. The results presented in this paper provide an example that demonstrates the effect that fuel slosh can have on the trajectory of a spacecraft in a low-g environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
StatePublished - 2022
Event73rd International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2022 - Paris, France
Duration: Sep 18 2022Sep 22 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work supported by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement (OSTEM) under Grant No.80NSSC19K1672 issued through the NASA Fellowships Program under MUREP funding.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 William J. Elke III, Ryan J. Caverly, and United States Government as represented by the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


  • constraints
  • low-g fuel slosh
  • navigation and control (GN&C)
  • spacecraft dynamics
  • spacecraft guidance


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