IFAORS Seminar

Introduction to Spacecraft Design and Systems Engineering

Advisor Donald Edberg, PhD – TI/IFAORS
Director Paul D. Try, PhD – Chair, TI/IFAORS
Sponsor Small Satellites and Space Systems Institute (4SI)
Held Mar. 16-18, 2011 (San Jose, CA); Aug. 17-19, 2011 (Newport News, VA)
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This seminar presents an overview of all the factors that affect the design and operation of satellites and spacecraft. It begins with an historical review of manned and unmanned spacecraft, including current designs and future concepts. All the design drivers, including launch, on-orbit environment and atmospheric entry, are covered. Launch vehicle engineering and its effect on the spacecraft design is discussed. Orbital mechanics is presented in a manner that provides an easy understanding of underlying principles, as well as such applications as maneuvering, transfers, rendezvous, and interplanetary transfers.

Considerable time is spent defining the systems engineering aspects of spacecraft design, including the spacecraft bus components and the relationship to ground control. Design considerations, such as structures and mechanisms, attitude sensing and control, thermal effects and life support, propulsion systems, power generation, telecommunications, and command and data handling, are detailed. Practical aspects, such as fabrication, cost estimation, and testing, also are discussed. The lecture concludes with several examples of, and the lessons learned from, spacecraft failures.



  • Introduction
    • Objectives
    • References
    • Web Sites
  • Spacecraft History
    • The Cold War and the Space Race
    • Early Unmanned Spacecraft
    • Manned Spacecraft
    • Apollo
    • Planetary Explorers
  • Current and Future Space
    • Current US and International Launch Vehicles
    • Future LVs and SVs
  • Spacecraft Design Drivers: the Launch Environment
    • Introduction to Ascent Trajectories
    • Design Drivers, Launch Vehicle Performance
    • Vibroacoustic, Thermal Environments, Load Factors, Pressure Profiles
    • Launch Vehicle Constraints: Payload Attach Fitting, Payload Fairing


  • Spacecraft Design Drivers: The Space Environment
    • Gravitational Perturbations and Orbital Disturbances
      • Nodal Regression
      • Periapsis Advance
      • GEO Stationkeeping
    • Special Orbits Utilizing these Effects
      • Molniya Orbit
      • Sun-synchronous Orbits
    • Lagrange Points
    • Space Radiation: Cosmic Rays, Solar Flares, Protons, Electrons
  • Space Effects on Spacecraft
    • Aerodynamic Drag
    • Gravity Gradiant Effects
    • Magnetic Effects
    • Solar Light Pressure Effects
    • Radiation Effects on Electronics
    • Static Buildup and Discharges
    • Atomic Oxygen
    • Orbital Debris
    • On-board Disturbances


  • Orbital Mechanics
    • Kepler’s Laws
    • Gravitation
    • Energy and Momentum Conservation
    • Conic Sections
    • Orbital Elements
    • Special Orbits (Geostationary, Molniya, Sun-Synchronous)
  • Orbital Maneuvers
    • Orbital Transfer
      • Hohmann Transfers
      • Bi-Elliptic Transfers
      • “Fast” Transfers
    • Plane changes
      • Simple
      • Combined
    • Interplanetary Trajectories: Matched Conics, Planetary Transfers
    • Low-Thrust Trajectories and Aerobraking
    • Gravity Assists
  • Orbital Rendezvous
    • On-Orbit Repositionin
    • Orbit Phasing
    • The Rendezvous Problem; Clohessy-Wiltshire Equations
  • Atmospheric Entry
    • Trajectory Effects
    • Prediction of Orbital Decay
    • Aerodynamic Braking and Heating
    • Deceleration and Loads Estimation
    • Shape and Ballistic Coefficient Effects
    • Thermal Protection


  • Systems Engineering
    • Spacecraft Missions and Types
    • Engineering Design Cycle
    • Payloads
    • Example: Design of a Remote Sensing System
    • Spacecraft Bus Elements
    • Launch Vehicle Interface; Secondary Payloads
    • Mass and Power Estimation
    • Reliability
  • Spacecraft Systems Design
    • Spacecraft Payload Requirements
    • Spacecraft Bus Elements
    • Major Design Drivers, Including Launch Vehicle Interface
    • Mass and Power Estimation
    • Design Margins
  • Structures and Mechanisms
    • Definitions and Methodologies
    • General Arrangement and Design Drivers
    • Constraints
    • Configuration Checklist
  • Analysis of Structures
    • Definitions: Factors and Margins of Safety; Strength vs. Stiffness; Load Factors
    • Stress and Frequency/Stiffness Constraints, Design Load Factors
    • Structural Materials (Metallic and Composites) and Fabrication
    • Dynamics, Acoustics, Random Vibrations
    • Examples of Static and Dynamic Stress Calculations
    • The Loads Cycle
    • Finite-Element Modeling
    • Coupled Loads, Acoustics


  • Propulsion
    • Delta-V and the Rocket Equation
    • Mass Ratios, Specific Impulse
    • Propulsion Systems
      • Solids
      • Mono-Propellant Liquids
      • Bi-Propellant Liquids
      • Cold Gas
      • Nuclear
      • Ion Propulsion
    • Propulsion System Mass Estimation
  • Spacecraft Types and Attitude Sensing
    • Spacecraft Types and Descriptions
    • Sensors: Acceleration, Angular Position, and Rate/Velocity
    • Disturbance Sources
    • Attitude Control System Block Diagrams, Pointing Accuracy, Coordinate Systems
  • Attitude Dynamics and Control
    • Control Schemes:
      • Three-Axis
      • Momentum-Bias
      • Gravity-Gradiant
      • Spinners
      • Dual-Spin Spacecraft
    • Repointing and Coning Maneuvers; Precession
    • Control Systems
    • Moments of Inertia, Stable and Unstable Spin
    • Nutation Damping
  • Attitude Control
    • Thrusters: Dual- and Monopropellant, Dual-Mode systems, Cold Gas
    • Reaction Wheels, Momentum Wheels, Control-Moment Gyros, Magnetic Torquers
    • Wheel Desaturation
    • Gravity Gradiant Effects
  • Thermal Control
    • Heat Balance, Radiation and Energy Transfer
    • Temperature Calculations, Simplified Models
    • Passive Thermal Control (Paints, Coatings, Insulation, Louvers, Shutters)
    • Active Heating and Cooling (Heaters, Cold Plates, Radioactive Heating)
    • Thermal Analysis and Calculations
    • Finite-Element Modeling
    • Thermal-Vacuum Testing
  • Environmental Control and Life Support Systems
    • Atmospheric Maintenance (Oxygen, Humidity, CO2 and Particulate Removal)
    • Water Reconditioning
    • Waste Management
    • Fire Suppression
    • Other Life Support System Functions


  • Power
    • Energy Sources
      • Batteries: Sizing, Life Estimation
      • Solar arrays
      • Nuclear (Radioisotope Thermal Generators)
    • Power System Design Procedures Including Efficiencies and Losses
    • Solar Array and Battery Sizing Example
    • System Mass Estimation
  • Telecommunications
    • Basics and Definitions
    • Ground Stations, Deep Space Network
    • Telemetry and Data Transmission Basics
    • Ranging
    • Frequency Selection
    • Antennas
    • Data Link Performance
  • Command and Data Handling
    • Basics and Definitions
    • Data Types, Encoding, and Commutation
    • Hardware, Functions of Computers and On-Board Storage
    • Software and Software Verification
  • Spacecraft Test
    • Testing Processes
      • Mechanisms
      • Vibration
      • Shock
      • Acoustices
      • Thermal
      • Software
    • Spacecraft/Launch Vehicle Integration, Payload Encapsulation
  • Failures and Lessons Learned
    • Case Studies
    • Independent Checks
    • Redundancy
  • Cost Estimation
    • Parametric Modeling
    • Cost Models
    • ROM Costing
    • Launch Vehicles


This seminar is ideal for both an engineer with a particular specialty and a scientist or instrument specialist who needs to obtain a solid background in the “big picture” or spacecraft design and how the pieces of the puzzle must fit together in the design of a spacecraft. Managers who want to understand the many aspects of spacecraft design that affect their work, tasks, and scheduling also should benefit from this course.


An interest in the factors that affect spacecraft design is all that is required. The material is provided in a mostly non-technical context, with technical equations provided for those who are interested in the mathematical details of a certain aspect.


A notebook containing copies of lecture slides and a DVD with reference materials will be provided on site.


A Certificate of Completion (18 hours) will be awarded to all those who complete the seminar.


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


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