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Deutsch: Querruder / Español: Alerón / Português: Aileron / Français: Aileron / Italiano: Alettoni

An aileron is a control surface typically found on the wings of an aircraft that enables it to roll and bank during flight. In the space industry context, while traditional ailerons as used in atmospheric flight are not applicable, the concept and function translate to similar control surfaces used in spacecraft for attitude control and maneuvering.


In traditional aviation, ailerons are hinged on the wings and move differentially to create asymmetric lift on the wings, causing the aircraft to roll to the left or right. This allows the pilot to control the aircraft's orientation along the longitudinal axis.

For spacecraft, similar control systems are used but are adapted to the environment of space, where aerodynamic surfaces like ailerons have no effect. Instead, spacecraft use devices such as reaction wheels, thrusters, or control moment gyroscopes to manage their attitude and orientation. These systems perform the function analogous to ailerons but do so through different physical principles, primarily relying on the conservation of angular momentum or the expulsion of mass.

Application Areas

While true ailerons are not used in spacecraft, the function they perform is crucial in several space-related applications:

  1. Satellite Deployment and Orientation: Maintaining and changing orientation using reaction control systems or gyroscopes to ensure correct positioning for communication or Earth observation.
  2. Spacecraft Maneuvering: During docking procedures, spacecraft orientation is critical. Control systems allow for precise movements and adjustments to facilitate safe docking with space stations or other spacecraft.
  3. Mars Rovers and Landers: On bodies with an atmosphere, like Mars, control surfaces can play a role in descent and landing phases. For instance, Mars rovers might use aerodynamic surfaces during entry and descent to help control their approach trajectory.

Well-Known Examples

Spacecraft such as the Space Shuttle used a combination of thrusters and control surfaces for re-entry and landing in Earth's atmosphere. While in space, the Shuttle utilized its Reaction Control System (RCS) for attitude adjustments, which is similar in function to what ailerons achieve in aircraft. During the atmospheric portion of its return, actual control surfaces similar to ailerons, elevators, and rudders provided aerodynamic control.

Treatment and Risks

The use of spacecraft control systems analogous to ailerons involves specific challenges:

  • Precision: High levels of accuracy are required in the control mechanisms to ensure the safety and success of space missions.
  • Reliability: Failure of these control systems can lead to mission failure, making redundancy and robustness critical components of their design.
  • Integration: These systems must be seamlessly integrated with other spacecraft systems, requiring sophisticated control algorithms and hardware.


Although traditional ailerons are not used in spacecraft due to the lack of an atmospheric environment in space, their functional equivalent is vital for the control and maneuvering of spacecraft. Systems like reaction wheels and thrusters serve the purpose of controlling the roll and maintaining the orientation of spacecraft, similar to how ailerons control an aircraft in flight. The adaptation of such systems for space travel is a critical aspect of spacecraft design, ensuring effective mission execution and safety.


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