Space Mission Structures: From Concept to Launch

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Space Mission Structures: From Concept to Launch

4-Day Course


This four-day course presents a systems perspective of structural engineering in the space industry. Originally based on the instructor's book, Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch, this course has evolved and been improved continuously since 1995.

If you are an engineer involved in any aspect of spacecraft or launch-vehicle structures, regardless of your level of experience, you will benefit from this course. Subjects include functions, requirements, environments, mechanics, loads analysis, stress analysis, fracture mechanics, finite-element modeling, configuration, producibility, verification planning, quality assurance, testing, and risk assessment.

The objectives are to give the big picture of space-mission structures and improve your understanding of

  • structural functions, requirements, and environments
  • how structures behave and how they fail
  • how to develop structures that are cost-effective and dependable for space missions

Despite its breadth, the course goes into great depth in key areas, with emphasis on the things that are commonly misunderstood and the types of things that go wrong in the development of flight hardware. The instructor shares numerous case histories and experiences to drive the main points home. Calculators are required to work class problems.

Each participant will receive a copy of the instructors' 850-page reference book, Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch.

View Course Sampler

  1. Introduction to Space-Mission Structures Structural functions and requirements, effects of the space environment, categories of structures, how launch affects things structurally, understanding verification, distinguishing between requirements and verification

  2. Review of Statics and Dynamics Static equilibrium, the equation of motion, modes of vibration

  3. Launch Environments and How Structures Respond Quasi-static loads, transient loads, coupled loads analysis, sinusoidal vibration, random vibration, acoustics, pyrotechnic shock

  4. Mechanics of Materials Stress and strain, understanding material variation, interaction of stresses and failure theories, bending and torsion, thermoelastic effects, mechanics of composite materials, recognizing and avoiding weak spots in structures

  5. Strength Analysis The margin of safety, verifying structural integrity is never based on analysis alone, an effective process for strength analysis, common pitfalls, recognizing potential failure modes, bolted joints, buckling

  6. Structural Life Analysis Fatigue, fracture mechanics, fracture control

  7. Overview of Finite Element Analysis Idealizing structures, introduction to FEA, limitations, strategies, quality assurance

  8. Preliminary Design A process for preliminary design, example of configuring a spacecraft, types of structures, materials, methods of attachment, preliminary sizing, using analysis to design efficient structures

  9. Designing for Producibility Guidelines for producibility, minimizing parts, designing an adaptable structure, designing to simplify fabrication, dimensioning and tolerancing, designing for assembly and vehicle integration

  10. Verification and Quality Assurance The building-blocks approach to verification, verification methods and logic, approaches to product inspection, protoflight vs. qualification testing, types of structural tests and when they apply, designing an effective test

  11. A Case Study: Structural design, analysis, and test of The FalconSAT-2 Small Satellite

  12. Final Verification and Risk Assessment Overview of final verification, addressing late problems, using estimated reliability to assess risks (example: negative margin of safety), making the launch decision

  • "Excellent presentation--a reminder of how much fun engineering can be."
  • "An excellent course. It gave me a lot to think about."
  • "Good stuff, and a very clear presentation."
  • "Very valuable. Relates classroom knowledge to actual experiences in the space industry."
  • "Great course!"-Retired Chief Engineer for USBI who helped develop the Saturn family of launch vehicles

If this course is not on the current schedule of open enrollment courses and you are interested in attending this or another course as an open enrollment, please contact us at (410) 956-8805 or Please indicate the course name, number of students who wish to participate. and a preferred time frame. ATI typically schedules open enrollment courses with a 3-5 month lead time. For on-site pricing, you can use the request an on-site quote form, call us at (410) 956-8805, or email us at


Tom Sarafin

Tom Sarafin has worked full time in the space industry since 1979. He worked over 13 years at Martin Marietta Astronautics, where he contributed to and led activities in structural analysis, design, and test, mostly for large spacecraft. Since founding Instar Engineering in 1993, he's consulted for NASA, DigitalGlobe, Lockheed Martin, AeroAstro, and other organizations. He's helped the U. S. Air Force Academy design, develop, and verify a series of small satellites and has been an advisor to DARPA. He was a member of the core team that developed NASA-STD-5020 and continues to serve on that team to help address issues with threaded fasteners at NASA. He is the editor and principal author of Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch and is a contributing author to Space Mission Analysis and Design. Since 1995, he has taught over 200 courses to more than 4000 engineers and managers in the space industry.

Poti Douglas

Poti Doukas is vice president and senior consultant for a private consulting firm. He worked at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (formerly Martin Marietta Astronautics) from 1978 to 2006. He served as Engineering Manager for the Phoenix Mars Lander program, Mechanical Engineering Lead for the Genesis mission, Structures and Mechanisms Subsystem Lead for the Stardust program, and Structural Analysis Lead for the Mars Global Surveyor. Since joining Instar Engineering in 2006, he has consulted for Lockheed Martin, the U. S. Air Force Academy, AeroAstro, Design Net Engineering, and NASA. He's a contributing author to Space Mission Analysis and Design and to Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch.

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