Spacecraft Design, Development, and Operations (2-Day Course) Online

This 2-day course presents an extensive and coherent treatment of the fundamental principles involved with the interdisciplinary design of spacecraft.  It is a version of arguably THE most comprehensive short course on spacecraft design available.

After an introduction, you will be introduced to the process involved with the ascent of a spacecraft into orbit. We provide a listing of worldwide launch sites and a discussion of the space industry.

Subsequent lectures include a detailed history of spacecraft along with upcoming space missions and current launch vehicles. Then, we look at the two environments that determine most spacecraft design features: the launch and space environments. Pre-launch and launch environments include transportation, ascent trajectories and launch profile loads. Space environment includes gravitational perturbations (regression of nodes, periapsis advance), space radiation and radiation belts. This is followed by a discussion of space environment effects, such as drag in low-earth orbit, gravity gradient, magnetic fields, solar radiation pressure, single-event upsets (SEUs), static discharge, atomic oxygen, orbital debris, outgassing, and internal mechanical disturbances.

Next, we provide a detailed introduction to spacecraft orbits and trajectories, including Kepler’s laws, conservation of energy and angular momentum, and classical orbital elements, and discuss “special” orbits such as Hohmann transfer orbits, geostationary, Molniya, and sun-synchronous. Orbit details such as plane changes and the method of patched conics for interplanetary missions are provided.

Next, it’s time to talk about the design cycle. We discuss mission design and payload development, including the design-development-flight operations cycle. Payload types, including direct- and remote-sensing, are introduced, followed by selection of payloads and some practical considerations. The elements of the spacecraft bus are listed along with major spacecraft design drivers: mass, power, and volume. We discuss initial mass & power estimation and allocation to subsystems with recommended margins, and the launch vehicle interface.

The next lectures delve into the details of the bus subsystems including structures and mechanisms, propulsion, attitude sensing and control, navigation, and thermal control. We discuss power generation, distribution, and storage with solar arrays, batteries, radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs), and system sizing procedures. Two sections on long-distance tele-communications and command and data handling round out the bus subsystem exposé. These include the link equation and link budget calculation, frequencies used, antennas and ranging, the Deep Space Network (DSN), types of spacecraft data, encoding, telemetry, computers & data storage, and software development.

The course then discusses testing procedures (mechanical/mechanisms, VS&A = vibration, shock, & acoustic, thermal, vacuum, radio frequency (RF), software, and integration with the launch vehicle. Next, a number of spacecraft failures are presented along with the “Five Mistakes to Look For” and a discussion of redundancy.

Key Course Topics

  • History of spacecraft
  • Current LVs
  • Spacecraft Design Drivers 1: Pre-launch & launch environment
  • Introduction to orbits, orbital mechanics
  • Spacecraft Design Drivers 2: Space environment & how it affects spacecraft
  • Spacecraft Mission & Payload Development
  • Structures, mechanisms, structural analysis
  • Propulsion systems
  • Attitude sensing, guidance, navigation
  • Spacecraft dynamics and control
  • Thermal control
  • Power systems
  • Telecommunications
  • Command & data handling
  • Testing, failures, lessons learned

[See Detailed Outline Below]

Who Should Attend

This course is intended for engineers of all types – systems, controls, structures, propulsion, reliability, manufacturing, as well as researchers, mission designers, technical managers, and both undergraduate and graduate students, who want to enhance their understanding of the fundamental principles of the design and operation of spacecraft. This introductory course focuses on the basic physical concepts and mathematics utilized in the preliminary design and analysis of space vehicles including many practical aspects.


Please contact Lisa Le if you have questions about the course or group discounts (for 5+ participants).

  1. Introduction & References: course objectives, reference material.
  2. Spacecraft History, Present, Future: the Cold War & Moon Race; space stations, shuttles, & cooperation; planetary probes; Earth orbiters, crewed spacecraft; current launch vehicles.
  3. Spacecraft Design Drivers 1: Pre-Launch & Launch Environment. Introduction to loads; transportation loads; launch / ascent trajectories & event definitions, load factors.
  4. Introduction to Orbits: Kepler's laws; gravitation; energy & momentum conservation; conic sections; orbital elements; circular & elliptical orbits; open orbits & escape trajectories; orbital elements, special orbits (geostationary, Molniya, sun-synchronous).
  5. Spacecraft Design Drivers 2: Space Environment. Gravitational perturbations: nodal regression, advance of periapsis, GEO station-keeping; space radiation (cosmic rays, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, protons, electrons) & effects, radiation belts.
  6. Space Effects: how the space environment affects spacecraft. Aerodynamic drag, gravity gradient effects; magnetic & solar pressure; radiation & single-event upsets; static buildup & discharge, sputtering; atomic oxygen; orbital debris; outgassing; internal disturbances.
  7. Orbital Mechanics: orbit shape changes; orbital transfers, including Hohmann & fast transfers, inclination changes; planetary transfers & patched conics; gravity assists.
  8. Spacecraft Mission & Payload Development: spacecraft missions & types; engineering design-development-flight ops cycle; direct- & remote-sensing payloads & instruments; payload design & selection; practical considerations.
  9. Systems Design: payload requirements; spacecraft bus elements; major spacecraft design drivers; initial mass & power estimation & subsystem allocations; margins; volume considerations & launch vehicle interface.
  10. Structures: definitions; structural functions; configuration samples; general arrangement, Configuration Checklist; materials (metals & composites), fabrication techniques.
  11. Mechanisms: deployment mechanisms, pointing & articulation; restraints & launch locks; spin bearings; scan platforms; booms, cable cutters; separation mechanisms.
  12. Structural Analysis: definitions; stress & strength calculations; natural frequency estimation; finite-element modeling; strength & stiffness constraints, design load factors, dynamics, acoustics, random vibrations; the loads cycle; coupled loads analysis
  13. Propulsion:v & the rocket equation; mass ratios, specific impulse; propulsion systems: solids, mono- & bi-propellant liquids, dual-mode systems; electric propulsion systems. Design considerations: mass & volume, components, system sizing.
  14. Spacecraft Attitude Sensing, Navigation/Orbit Determination: survey of types; stabilization & control schemes: three-axis, gravity-gradient, spinners, dual-spin spacecraft. Attitude determination, coordinate system rotations; sensor types: acceleration, angular position & velocity, navigation.
  15. Spacecraft Dynamics & Control: spinning vs. non-spinning, actuators: thrusters; reaction / momentum wheels, CMGs, magnetic torquers; gravity gradient effects. Pointing accuracy. Maneuvers: spinning, rotation.
  16. Thermal Control: requirements; energy balance & transfer; passive thermal control, including coatings, insulation; louvers, shutters, heaters, cold plates, radioactive heating. Thermal Analysis: radiation; view factors; analysis examples; simplified whole-spacecraft analysis; transient analysis; finite-element modeling.
  17. Power: definitions; power system design procedures; energy sources: solar arrays; batteries: sizing, life estimation; energy balance; radioisotope thermal generators. Electrical power system sizing & mass estimation. Operational modes. Cabling!
  18. Telecommunications: basics of telecommunications & definitions; the Link equation & data link budget; antennas & performance; ranging; ground stations & deep space network; frequency selection.
  19. Command & Data Handling: command & data basics; data types, encoding, & commutation; telemetry; functions of computers & on-board storage; hardware & software.
  20. Testing: goals of testing; the testing process, including mechanical, vibration, shock, acoustics, thermal (“shake & bake”), vacuum, RF, electrical, software.
  21. Failures & Lessons Learned: why spacecraft fail; the Five Mistakes To Look For, failure case studies, redundancy.

AIAA Associate Fellow and former Boeing Technical Fellow Don Edberg has been teaching aerospace vehicle design since 2001 at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (CPP); he also holds part-time positions at USC and UCLA. He is co-author of the textbook Design of Rockets and Space Launch Vehicles, published in 2020. CPP student design teams he has advised have placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd over 20 times in AIAA student design competitions in Missile Systems, Space Transportation Systems, Spacecraft Design, and Aircraft Design. At CPP, he has received the Provost’s Excellence in Teaching award, College of Engineering’s Outstanding Teaching and Outstanding Advisor awards, and the Northrop Grumman Faculty Teaching award. He has presented short courses in launch vehicle and spacecraft design to several NASA centers, National Transportation Safety Board, Northrop Grumman, Boeing Satellite Systems, and several smaller aerospace businesses. He was a Technical Fellow at Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, where he authored or co-authored ten US patents, and received the Silver Eagle award from McDonnell Douglas as Chief Engineer on the STABLE active microgravity vibration isolation system that successfully flew on STS-73 shuttle mission. He has also worked at Convair, AeroVironment (where he was the chief engineer on the electric-powered, back-packable FQM-151 Pointer UAV), JPL, NASA Ames, NASA MSFC, and US Air Force Research Lab. He received a B.A. in Applied Mechanics from University of California, San Diego, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautical and Astronautical Sciences from Stanford. He is an Eminent Engineer in Tau Beta Pi and was Engineer of the Year of the AIAA Orange County, CA section.


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