Engineering for Success in the Space Industry

Course Length:



This three-day course introduces the unique challenges of system development in the space industry and presents an integrated approach for addressing them in a manner that helps ensure not only a successful mission but also reduced total cost (and more fun along the way!). The course introduces and explores nine principles for effective engineering in the space industry:

      • Never stop learning, and don’t become too specialized
      • Adopt the right attitude: Take responsibility for quality and mission success
      • Allow others to have ownership of their products
      • Constantly strive to improve communication and teamwork
      • Follow a sound engineering approach
      • Keep everything as simple as possible
      • Establish an effective quality system
      • Be willing to accept risks, but only those you and the other stakeholders understand
      • Don’t let the fire go out!

The course addresses requirements development, design, verification planning, quality assurance, risk assessment, and team communication. Emphasis is on mechanical aspects of system development. The instructors share numerous examples, case histories, and personal experiences to drive home the key points.


What you will learn:

  • understand what it takes to design, build, and test a spacecraft that works, given the unique challenges of the space industry.
  • understand how developing a spacecraft within budget and schedule requires not only good engineering, but also effective teamwork and communication.
  • acquire a healthy attitude regarding quality, mission success, and personal responsibility.
  • learn important lessons from multiple case histories.

Who should attend:

Engineers in all disciplines and of all levels of experience. Managers, leaders, and supervisors are encouraged to take Instar’s related course, Ten Principles for Successful Space Programs.

Course Outline:

  1. Introduction
  2. Overview of Space Missions and Spacecraft
    • Types of space missions
    • Mission elements
    • Orbits
    • Spacecraft subsystems
    • Mission environments: launch and space


  3. Why Are Space Missions So Challenging?
    • How do we reduce cost and ensure a successful mission?
    • A wake-up call
    • Common problems in space programs
    • Taking time to understand the problem


  4. Nine Principles for Effective Engineering in the Space Industry
    • Faster, better, cheaper-can we get all three?
    • Understanding quality
    • Who’s responsible for quality assurance?
    • The two root causes of poor quality
    • Nine principles for effective engineering


  5. Understanding Requirements and Verification
    • A high-level view
    • Functions and constraints
    • The life cycle as a source of requirements
    • The difference between requirements and criteria
    • Understanding verification
    • Ownership and responsibility
    • The role of government standards


  6. System Development and Requirements Development
    • Program phases
    • A process for system development
    • The role of requirements documents
    • Allocating requirements; trade studies
    • Controlling interfaces
    • Requirements validation
    • Contents of a requirements specification
    • Maintaining traceability
    • Requirements language
    • Writing good requirements (includes class exercise)


  7. Reducing Cost and Risk By Design
    • Strategies for reducing cost while improving quality
    • Dispelling some myths
    • Keep it simple!
    • Reducing the number of parts
    • Accommodating likely growth
    • Standardizing


  8. Verification Planning
    • Reactive and proactive verification
    • Verification methods and logic
    • Establishing a test program
    • Qualification and acceptance testing
    • Protoflight testing
    • Deployment testing: Test as you fly


  9. Establishing an Effective Quality System
    • What is a quality system?
    • Keys to an effective quality system
    • Examples of quality systems at multiple levels
    • Attending to details
    • Controlling the configuration
    • Effective use of product inspection
    • Responding to discrepancies
    • Managing weight growth


  10. Responsibly Accepting Risk
    • What it means to understand a risk
    • Common risk rating systems
    • Removing subjectivity with expected cost of failure
    • Hypothetical examples
    • Making the launch decision


  11. Communication and Teamwork
    • The importance of communication
    • How to maximize your influence as an engineer
    • Building relationships and trust
    • Guidelines for effective communication
    • Writing and presenting effectively
  12. The quality of a report or a presentation reflects the quality of the engineering
  13. Summary: Don’t Let the Fire Go Out!


REGISTRATION:  There is no obligation or payment required to enter the Registration for an actively scheduled course.   We understand that you may need approvals but please register as early as possible or contact us so we know of your interest in this course offering.

SCHEDULING:  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.   To express your interest in an open enrollment course not on our current schedule, please email us at

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 is president and chief engineer for a private consulting firm. He has worked full time in the space industry since 1979. He spent 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 in 1993, he’s consulted for NASA, DigitalGlobe, AeroAstro, Lockheed Martin, and other organizations. He’s helped the United States Air Force Academy design, develop, and verify a series of small satellites and has been an advisor to DARPA. 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’s taught well over 100 courses to more than 3000 engineers and managers in the space industry.

  • 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.

    Contact these instructors (please mention course name in the subject line)

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