Launch Vehicle Systems – Reusable


This course provides the practical knowledge to understand the issues of costs, performance, technology, operation and utility of reusable launch systems. The seminar is designed for engineers, decision makers and managers of current and future projects needing a better understanding of the complex issues involved in the optimization of reusable launch vehicles. The seminar describes the choices and consequences of options facing those seeking to improve space transportation through decreased dependence on expending launch vehicle hardware. You will learn a wide spectrum of problems and solutions to reusable launch vehicle technology and how the choices stack-up against current expendable vehicle systems.

The seminar is taught from the point-of-view of reusable launch vehicle decision makers. What do you need to know to achieve a practical and cost-effective reusable launch vehicle, given performance reliability, safety and cost trade-offs? What do you need to know to make the proper decisions from propellant selection and architecture to the level of new technology needed to achieve the desired degree of success? The similarities, and differences between expendable and reusable vehicle systems, design and performance are compared and explained to help understand the optimum launch vehicle design.

Attendees will receive a complete set of printed notes. These notes will be an excellent future reference for current trends to the state-of-the-art in reusable launch vehicle modeling, design, development, operations and decision criteria.

What you will learn:

  • Modeling Reusable Launch Vehicles, and how they differ from Expendable Vehicles.
  • Tradeoffs in performance, cost, reliability, safety and utility
  • Business justification for next generation reusable launch vehicles
  • Technology, design, development, production and operations decisions
  • Working with a large reusable launch vehicle design team

Who should attend:

  • Reusable Launch Vehicle Project Designers,Managers and Decision makers.
  • Commercial and Government sponsors of Reusable Launch Vehicles.
  • Modelers or simulation analysts for RLV technology Projects.
  • RLV Technology specialist needing broader understanding of the “Big Picture”

Course Outline:

  1. Introduction to Launch Vehicle Technology. Understanding the basic physics and chemistry of rocket propulsion, rocket flight through the atmosphere to a vacuum, achieving a proper orbit, and useful orbits for Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) operations.
  2. Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELV) as the Baseline for RLV Technology. Examining elements of a Launch Vehicle including main propulsion, propellant tanks, structures and avionics. Understanding how and why ELV Systems Remain Dominant, and why ELV Systems are so expensive. Staging theory introduced.
  3. Unique RLV Systems. Introducing the reentry, recovery, and landing of reusable vehicles. Evaluating the impact of reuse on the design.
  4. Propellant Selection as Technology and Performance Drivers.Comparing the performance of alternative propellants and modeling the impact of propellant density. Trade study comparative algorithms, and the main propulsion selection criteria. Critical engine selection issues, augmentation propulsion and on-orbit propellants (OMS, RCS and ACS) are discussed.
  5. Mass Properties and Scaling Issues. Examining the importance of vehicle size, and the propellant selection, on launch vehicle mass properties. Mass properties as drivers for cost models
  6. Basic modeling of RLV systems and simplifying assumptions.Introducing integrated comparative models, performance models, cost models and simulations.
  7. Business Models and Business Case Closure. The time value of money, commercial business Government project criteria and why business closure is so difficult
  8. Operational Issues and the Turn-Around Process. Modeling the turn-around process, ramping up, and fixed costs and variable costs.
  9. Performance Differences between ELV and RLV Systems. Mass ratio impacts on scale and orbital limitations on RLV Systems.
  10. The SSTO vs. TSTO Decisions. Mass Properties and operational differences and issues between an SSTO and a TSTO.
  11. Reliability Issues with RLV Systems. Introducing basic reliability analysis, failure rates, and catastrophic failures. Understanding reliability’s impact on operations. Examine the flight environment and reliability. Why are RLVs More Reliable Than ELVs? Observing unknown unknowns, the big reliability wild card. Why the Space Shuttle and Saturn Were Particularly Reliable? Introducing engine reliability strategies for RLV systems.
  12. Practical Engine Selection Issues. Existing Engines or a Clean Sheet? Choosing between performance and robust engines. Thrust-to-weight comparisons. Observing the reliability of engines, at different power levels.
  13. OMS and RCS issues for RLV technology. Explore OMS and RCS functions, including existing toxic propellants and operations effort. Non-toxic alternatives. Choosing wisely.
  14. Safety Issues and the RLV. Understanding the relationship between Safety and Reliability. Range safety, crew safety and regulation of flying vehicles
  15. Launch site selection issues for RLV Systems, including inland launch sites. Understanding the impact of selected latitude, altitude, local weather and logistics on the overall system performance and operations.
  16. Mixed Expendable and Reusable Decisions. Examining the Space Shuttle example of a mixed vehicle. Expendable propulsion augmentation, and expendable tanks, on reusable vehicles. Testing the limit of reusability.
  17. Risk Issues and Risk Reduction. Analyzing why launch vehicle projects fail, evaluating the project technical and financial risks, and modeling for realism.
  18. Opportunities For Revolutionary RLV Technology, including where to start and what technologies are critical.


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


  • Edward L. Keith is a multi-discipline Launch Vehicle System Engineer, specializing in the integration of launch vehicle technology, design, and business strategies. He is currently conducting business case strategic analysis, risk reduction and modeling for the Boeing Space Launch Initiative Reusable Launch Vehicle team. For the past five years, Ed has supported the technical and business case efforts at Boeing to advance the state-of-the-art for reusable launch vehicles. Mr. Keith has designed complete rocket engines, rocket vehicles, small propulsion systems, and composite propellant tank systems, especially designed for low cost, as a propulsion and launch vehicle engineer. His travels have taken him to Russia, China, Australia and many other launch operation centers throughout the world. Mr. Keith has worked as a Systems Engineer for Rockwell International, on the Brillant Eyes Satellite Program and on the Space Shuttle Advanced Solid Rocket Motor project. Mr. Keith served for five years with Aerojet in Australia, evaluating all space mission operations that originated in the Eastern Hemisphere. Mr. Keith also served for five years on Launch Operations at Vandenberg AFB, California. Mr. Keith has written 18 papers on various aspects of Low Cost Space Transportation over the last decade.

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