IFAORS Seminar

Launch Vehicle Systems Design and Engineering


Advisor Donald Edberg, PhD – TI/IFAORS
Director Paul D. Try, PhD – Chair, TI/IFAORS
Sponsor Institute for Atmospheric Optics and Remote Sensing (IFAORS)
Held Mar. 19-20, 2012 (East Aurora, NY)
Downloads  Click here to download TRS123 Flyer


This seminar presents an overview of the engineering design factors that affect the operation of launch vehicles.  It begins with a historical review of manned and unmanned launch vehicles, followed by current designs and future concepts.  All the design drivers, such as launch windows, require acceleration performance (including gravity and atmospheric losses), ascent trajectories, and orbit/escape injections are covered.  Ascent dynamics and orbital mechanics are presented as they relate to launch vehicle performance in a manner that provides an easy understanding of underlying principles. Considerable time is spent defining the systems engineering aspects of launch vehicle design, including rocket propulsion, structures and tanks, staging, guidance and control, payload integration, and the various launch vehicle subsystems and components.  Design considerations such as launch optimization, thermal effects, range safety, and operational aspects, are detailed.  Practical aspects of launch vehicles, such as fabrication and testing, are also discussed.  The course lecture concludes with several examples of, and the lessons learned from, launch vehicle failures.

The oral presentation is supplemented with complete printed class notes.  Students are also supplied with a DVD containing an extensive set of design data along with the videos illustrating different concepts that are shown in class.  A trajectory optimization code along with a sample vehicle optimization input file is also provided.


This seminar is ideal both for an engineer with a particular specialty or any specialist who needs to obtain a solid background in the “big picture” of launch vehicle design and how these vehicles must work together with spacecraft payloads.  Managers who want to understand the many aspects of launch vehicle design that affect their work, tasks, and scheduling will also benefit from this course.


Lecture notes and a design data DVD are distributed on the first day of the course.  These notes are for participants only, and are not for sale.


A Certificate of Completion (12 hours) will be awarded to all those who complete the seminar.


Registration Fee: TBA
Early Registration Fee: TBA
Group discounts are also available.


Engineering Design References
Launch Vehicle History

  • Early Developments
  • Post-WWI Research
  • The Cold War and Early Ballistic Missiles
  • The Space Race
  • Use of Ballistic Missiles to Launch Spacecraft
  • Inhabited Launch Vehicles
  • Reusable Launch Vehicles
  • Current and Future Space Launch Vehicles

Launch Vehicle Propulsion

  • Rocket Engine Terminology and Definitions
  • Delta-V and the Rocket Equation
  • Predicting Rocket Performance: thrust, mass flow, burnout speed
  • Types of Propulsion Systems: solid, liquid, hybrid; conventional and aerospike nozzles
  • Types and Performance of Propellents, Bulk Density, Specific Impulse
  • Liquid Engine Propulsion Cycles
  • Propulsion System Performance Data
  • Propulsion Instabilities: pogo, resonant burn

Launch Vehicle Performance and Staging

  • Performance Parameters and Definitions
  • The Rocket Equation and Mass Fraction
  • Single-Stage-to-Orbit Designs
  • Types of Staging: Series and Parallel
  • Calculation of Staged Vehicle Performance
  • Optimal Staging
  • Design Sensitivities and Trade-Off Ratios

Powered Flight Requirements

  • Energy Required to Orbit and Escape
  • Calculation of Ascent Losses from Drag and Gravity
  • Effect of Rotating Earth
  • Powered Flight, Launch Trajectories, Orbit Insertion
  • Energy Needed to Escape from Earth: C3 and the “Port Chop” Energy Plot

Trajectory Analysis

  • Vertical (Sounding Rockets)
  • The Local Horizon Frame, Vehicle Coordinates, and Inclined Flight in Gravity
  • Forces and Moments on a Rocket
  • Ascent Trajectory Simulation
  • Gravity Turn, Constant Acceleration, constant Thrust Trajectories
  • 3 DoF Trajectory Optimization Techniques

Orbital Mechanics

  • Kepler’s Laws, Gravity
  • Orbits, Conic Sections, Orbital Elements
  • Special Orbits (Geostationary, Molniya, Sun-Synchronous, Others)
  • Launch Azimuth, Orbital Inclination, Dog-leg Maneuvers, Launch Windows


Launch Vehicle Structures

  • Anatomy of a LV (Delta II, Saturn V)
  • General Arrangement and Design Drivers
  • Inboard Profile: where does it all fit
  • LV Structure Types
  • Metals and Composite Materials
  • Fabrication and Assembly
  • Structural Details and Examples: thrust structure, interstage
  • Payload Attach Fitting/Launch Vehicle Adapter and Spacecraft/Launch Vehicle Integration
  • Separation Mechanisms and Ordnance Devices
  • Vehicle Assembly Process
  • Structural Testing Process, including Vibration, Shock, Acoustics (VS&A)

Vehicle Sizing

  • Engine(s) and Thrust Structure
  • Tanks and Tank Domes: Tank Volume Calculation
  • Intertank Structure
  • Ground Attachment
  • Payload Fairing
  • Mass Estimation

Structural Analysis

  • The Loads Environment: Transportation and Ground Handling Ground Winds
  • Flight Loads: Liftoff, Max Q, Wind Shear, Main Engine Cutoff (MECO), Fairing Separation
  • The Saturn V: Case Study in Ground and Flight Loads
  • Strength and Stiffness Constraints Design Load Factors
  • Finite-Element Modeling
  • Dynamics, Acoustics, Random Vibrations
  • Static and Dynamic Stress Calculations and Load Factors
  • Coupled Loads for Non-Rocket Scientists

Thermal Control

  • Thermal Environment
  • Ascent Heating
  • Thermal Control, including Coatings, Insulation
  • Finite-Element Modeling

Stability, Attitude Sensing and Control

  • Rigid-body Launch Vehicle Attitude Sensing
  • Stable Platforms, Inertial Guidance, Inertial Measeurement Units (IMUs)
  • Attitude Control System Block Diagrams, Pointing Accuracy, Coordinate Systems
  • Steering: Thrust Vectoring, Aerodynamic Controls, Jet Vanes, Jet Injection
  • Hydraulics and Pneumatics
  • Trimmed Flight and Lateral Acceleration
  • Flexible Body Dynamics (“Tail Wags Dog”)
  • Propellant Sloshing

Reusable Launch Vehicles and Atmospheric Entry

  • Effects of Entry Speed and Angle
  • Aerodynamic Braking, Heating, and Loads Estimation
  • Vehicle Shape and Ballistic Coefficient Effects
  • Thermal Protection Systems


  • Telemetry, Ranging, Ground Stations
  • Range Safety Considerations

Conclusion – Failures and Lessons Learned

  • Case Studies
  • Reliability and Redundancy

DISCLAIMER: Attendance at this event is for personal growth, and entails no promise of employment.