Spacecraft Design, Development, and Operations - Online Short Course (Starts 14 Oct 2024) 14 October - 20 November 2024 Online

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Instructor: Don Edberg, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Cal Poly Pomona & Adjunct Lecturer, Astronautical Engineering, University of Southern California (USC), Former Boeing Technical Fellow 

  • From 14 October – 20 November 2024 (6 Weeks, 12 Lectures, 36 Hours)

  • Every Monday and Wednesday at 12–3 p.m. ET (all sessions will be recorded and available for replay; course notes will be available for in-browser viewing on Aerospace Research Central)

  • This comprehensive course focuses on the application of numerous engineering disciplines to the design and analysis of spacecraft

  • Course includes many illustrative application examples of existing or heritage hardware and optional practice exercises to enhance the learning experience

  • All students will receive an AIAA Certificate of Completion at the end of the course


This 36-hour course presents an extensive and coherent treatment of the fundamental principles involved with the interdisciplinary design of spacecraft. It is arguably THE most comprehensive short course on spacecraft design available.

After an introduction, we will first cover 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 spacecraftalong with current and future LVs and upcoming space missions. Then, we look at the two environments that determine many spacecraft design features: the pre-launch and launch environment, and the space environment. Pre-launch and launch environments include transportation, ascent trajectories and launch profile loads, and design drivers. Space environment includes gravitational perturbations (regression of nodes, periapsis advance), three-body motion & Lagrange points, 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, conic sections and classical orbital elements, and discuss “special” orbits such as transfer orbits, geostationary, Molniya, and sun-synchronous. Orbit details such as plane changes, transfers, the method of patched conics, and gravity-assist maneuvers are provided.

Orbital information is concluded with mention of orbital rendezvous and phasing. Low-thrust orbit raising and decay leading to atmosphere entry are discussed, as are aerobraking & aerocapture, deceleration, heating, and shape effects.

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 including 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 orbit determination, thermal control, and the environmental control and life support system (ECLSS) for a crewed spacecraft. 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. The final lecture is on cost estimation, including parametric modeling, cost models, cost-estimating relationships (CERs), and other associated costs such as launch vehicles, mission operations, DSN, and software.


  • History of spacecraft
  • Current LVs and new developments
  • Spacecraft Design Drivers 1: Pre-launch & launch environment
  • Introduction to orbits, orbital mechanics
  • Spacecraft Design Drivers 2: Space environment & how it affects spacecraft
  • Orbital maneuvering & rendezvous
  • Low-thrust trajectories, orbital decay, atmospheric entry
  • Spacecraft Mission & Payload Development
  • Structures, mechanisms, materials, structural analysis
  • Propulsion systems
  • Attitude sensing, guidance, navigation
  • Spacecraft dynamics, and control
  • Thermal control, Environmental Control & Life Support Systems (ECLSS) for crewed spacecraft
  • Power systems
  • Telecommunications
  • Command and data handling
  • Testing, failures, lessons learned
  • Cost estimation

[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.

Course Fees (Sign-In to Register)
Member Price: $1395 USD
Non-Member Price: $1595 USD
Student Member Price: $695 USD

Classroom hours / CEUs: 36 classroom hours/ 3.6 CEUs

Cancellation Policy: A refund less a $50.00 cancellation fee will be assessed for all cancellations made in writing prior to 5 days before the start of the event. After that time, no refunds will be provided.

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


COURSE OUTLINE (Timeline is approximate and depends on questions asked during the lecture):


SUBJECT (numbers in parenthesis refer to lecture #)


1. Introduction & References: course objectives, reference material

2. Spacecraft History, Present, Future: early history, the Cold War & Moon Race; space stations, shuttles, and cooperation; planetary probes; Earth orbiters, crewed spacecraft; current launch vehicles; the future

3. Spacecraft Design Drivers 1: Pre-Launch & Launch Environment. Introduction to loads; transportation loads; launch/ascent trajectories & event definitions, design drivers, and 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, full-sun)

5. Spacecraft Design Drivers 2: Space Environment: Gravitational perturbations: nodal regression, advance of periapsis, GEO station-keeping; Lagrange points, three-body motion; 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 and fast transfers, inclination or plane changes; planetary transfers & patched conics; gravity assists


8. Orbital Maneuvers and Rendezvous: position change in given orbit; orbit phasing; rendezvous, timing; rendezvous maneuvering & Clohessy-Wiltshire equations

9. Low-thrust trajectories, Orbital Decay, Atmospheric Entry: equations of motion, comparison to higher-thrust systems. Critical entry parameters, aerodynamic braking/deceleration & heating; shape effects; thermal protection; aerobraking & aerocapture


10. Spacecraft Mission & Payload Development: spacecraft missions & types; engineering design-development-flight ops cycle; direct- & remote-sensing payloads & instruments; payload design & selection; practical considerations

11. Systems Design: payload requirements; spacecraft bus elements; major spacecraft design drivers; initial mass & power estimation & subsystem allocations; margins; volume considerations & launch vehicle interface


12. Structures: definitions; structural functions; configuration samples; general arrangement, Configuration Checklist; materials (metals & composites), components & fabrication techniques.

13. Mechanisms: deployment mechanisms, pointing & articulation; restraints & launch locks; spin bearings; scan platforms; booms, cable cutters; separation mechanisms, pyrotechnic & ordnance devices, non-pyrotechnics


14. Structural Analysis: definitions; stress & strength calculations; natural frequency calculation; finite-element modeling; coupled-loads analysis; strength & stiffness constraints, design load factors, dynamics, acoustics, random vibrations; the loads cycle; coupled loads analysis

15. Propulsion:v & the rocket equation; mass ratios, specific impulse; propulsion systems: solids, mono- and bi-propellant liquids, dual-mode systems; electric propulsion systems. Design considerations: mass & volume, components, system sizing.


16. Spacecraft Attitude Sensing, Navigation/Orbit Determination: survey of types; stabilization & control schemes: three-axis, momentum-bias, gravity-gradient, spinners, dual-spin spacecraft. Attitude determination, coordinate system rotations; sensor types: acceleration, angular position & velocity, navigation & orbit determination.

17. Spacecraft Dynamics & Control: spinning vs. non-spinning, actuators: thrusters; reaction / momentum wheels, CMGs, magnetic torquers; gravity gradient effects. pointing accuracy. Maneuvers: spinning, repointing, precession


18. 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.

19. Environmental Control & Life Support Systems: habitation requirements; atmosphere, temperature, food, water & O2 reconditioning; waste management, fire detection, other functions


20. Power: definitions; power system design procedures; energy sources: solar arrays: body mount & deployable; batteries: sizing, life estimation; energy balance; radioisotope thermal generators. Electrical power system sizing & mass estimation. Operational modes. Cabling! 


21. Telecommunications: basics of telecommunications & definitions; the Link equation & data link budget; antennas & performance; ranging; ground stations & deep space network; frequency selection

22. Command & Data Handling: command & data basics; data types, encoding, & commutation; telemetry; functions of computers & on-board storage; hardware & software


23. Testing: goals of testing; the testing process, including mechanical, vibration, shock, acoustics, thermal (“shake & bake”), vacuum, RF, electrical, software; mechanisms; spacecraft/launch vehicle integration

24. Failures and Lessons Learned: Why Spacecraft Fail; the Five Mistakes To Look For, case studies, redundancy

25. Cost Estimation: discussion of methods, parametric modeling; cost models & CERs (cost-estimating relationships); ROM costing; launch vehicle costs; mission operations, DSN


Course Delivery and Materials

  • The course lectures will be given via Zoom. Test your connection here:
  • Access to the virtual classroom will be provided to registrants near the course start date.
  • All slides will be available to view online in Aerospace Research Central (ARC). No part of these materials may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted, unless for course participants. All rights reserved.
  • All sessions will be available on-demand within 1-2 days of the lecture. Once available, you can stream the replay video anytime, 24/7.
  • Between lectures, the instructor will be available at for technical questions and comments.
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 Teachingand 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 the UC 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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