The Space Environment - Implications for Spacecraft Design


This course is designed to provide an introduction to the subject of spacecraft-environment interactions, also known as space environments and effects or space weather effects.  The course addresses each of the major environments: vacuum, neutral, plasma, radiation, and micrometeoroid / orbital debris.  In each section, the basic physics behind the environment is reviewed but the emphasis is on quantifying the magnitude of the various interactions and identifying mitigation techniques and design guidelines.

Key Topics:

  • Vacuum Environment Effects – Solar UV Degradation, Molecular and Particulate Contamination
  • Neutral Environment Effects – Aerodynamic Drag, Atomic Oxygen Erosion, Glow
  • Plasma Environment Effects – Spacecraft Charging and Arc Discharging
  • Radiation Environment Effects – Total Dose and Single Event Effects
  • Micrometeoroid / Orbital Debris Effects – Hypervelocity Impact Damage

Who Should Attend:

This course is of interest to spacecraft system engineers, subsystem designers, payload providers, or space environments and effects specialists.  It is of particular interest to anyone who needs a better understanding of radiation degradation, spacecraft charging and discharging, contamination control, or other spacecraft-environment interactions.

Course Information:

Type of Course: Instructor-Led Short Course
Course Level: Advanced/Intermediate
Course Length: 2-4 days
AIAA CEU's available: Yes


I.  Vacuum environment effects include materials degradation due to the solar UV and contamination.  Both molecular and particulate contamination are addressed and their effects on solar arrays, thermal control surfaces, and optical devices are examined.

II.  The neutral atmosphere is described and quantified.  Mechanical interactions such as aerodynamic drag and sputtering are examined, as are chemical interactions such as spacecraft glow and atomic oxygen erosion.

III. The plasma environment is described and quantified in low Earth orbit, polar orbits, and geosynchronous.  Spacecraft charging relations are developed and methods to estimate worst case charging are reviewed.  Arc discharging via dielectric breakdown or electrostatic discharge (ESD) is examined.

IV.  The radiation environment due to the Van Allen radiation belts, solar particle events (SPEs), galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), or hostile environments are described.  Total dose effects such as solar array power loss or electronics degradation are examined as are single event effects such as upset, latchup, and burnout.

V. The micrometeoroid and orbital debris environments are quantified and techniques to estimate the frequency and severity of hypervelocity impact damage are provided.




Dr. Alan C. Tribble is a former Principal Investigator for the NASA Space Environment Effects program.  The author of the course text, he is a former Associate Editor for the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, an Associate Fellow of the AIAA, and winner of the AIAA James A. Van Allen Space Environments Award.


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