Space Systems & Subsystems Fundamentals

Course Length:



This 4-day course in space systems and space subsystems engineering is for technical and management personnel who wish to gain an understanding of the important technical concepts in the development of space instrumentation, subsystems, and systems. The goal is to assist students in achieving their professional potential by endowing them with an understanding of the basics of subsystems and the supporting disciplines important to developing space instrumentation, space subsystems, and space systems. It designed for participants who expect to plan, design, build, integrate, test, launch, operate or manage subsystems, space systems, launch vehicles, spacecraft, payloads, or ground systems. The objective is to expose each participant to the fundamentals of each subsystem and their inter-relations, to not necessarily make each student a systems engineer, but to give aerospace engineers and managers a technically based space systems perspective. The fundamental concepts are introduced and illustrated by state-of-the-art examples. This course differs from the typical space systems course in that the technical aspects of each important subsystem are addressed. The textbook “Fundamentals of Space Systems” published by Oxford University Press will be provided to all attendees.

What you will learn:

  • Basics of systems engineering
  • Fundamentals necessary to become a systems engineer
  • Fundamentals concepts of the design of space systems
  • Managing and minimizing risks in space systems
  • Challenges of developing a space system or complex space instrument
  • Detailed technical description of the major subsystems of a spacecraft

Who should attend:

Scientists, engineers, and managers involved in the management, planning, design, fabrication, integration, test, or operation of space instruments, space subsystems, and spacecraft. The course will provide an understanding of the space subsystems and disciplines necessary to develop a space instrument and spacecraft and the systems engineering approach to integrate these for a successful mission.

Course Outline:

  1. Introduction:
    • Brief discussion of the objectives of the class, the approach, the logistics, and the qualification of Dr Pisacane
  2. Overview of Topics:
    • Overview of the following topics: Systems Engineering. Risk Management. Time Systems. Astrodynamics.
    • Orbit Determination.
    • Spacecraft Propulsion Systems. Spacecraft Attitude Determination.
    • Spacecraft Attitude Control, Spacecraft Power Systems. Space Communications.
    • Spacecraft Command & Telemetry. Spacecraft Thermal Control.
    • Spacecraft Structures. Mission Operations. Introduction to Cubesats.
    • Mission Operations.
  3. Overview of Selected Systems:
    • Recent Spacecraft missions are discussed to provide an overall perspective of some challenging missions.
    • Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn.
    • NearEarth Asteroid Rendezvous to the asteroid Eros.
  4. Systems Engineering:
    • Introductory Concepts.
    • Systems Engineering (space engineering standards, development processes).
    • System Development (V diagram, system life cycle, engineering management plan, ICD’s, configuration management, margins and contingencies, TRL’s).
    • Engineering Reviews (attributes and types).
    • System Testing (types, verification and validation).
    • Management of Space Systems (scheduling, budgeting, earned value, cost estimating, cost readiness levels).
  5. Astrodynamics:
    • Introduction.
    • Equations of Motion (Kepler’s laws, differential equation of orbit, sun and moon effects).
    • Conic Sections (circular, elliptical, parabolic, and hyperbolic orbit position determination, ground coverage, Walker constellation, repeating ground tracks).
    • Reference Systems (ICRS, GCRS ITRS, crustal motion, IERS bulletins, geometric transformation).
    • Classical Orbital Elements.
    • Gravitational Potential (models, WGS-84,EGM 2008, planetary models ).
    • Trajectory Perturbations (gravity, drag, radiation pressure, Lagrange planetary equations, orbital maneuvers).
  6. Spacecraft Propulsion Systems:
    • Introduction (Uses, characteristics ,types of rockets).
    • Rocket Propulsion(Chemical rocket, rocket equation of motion, effective exhaust velocity, specific impulse, exhaust velocity, mass flow rate, nozzle shape, deLaval nozzle, aerospike engine, thrust coefficient. characteristic exhaust velocity, mixture ratios, rocket performance, POGO oscillations).
    • Force-Free Rocket Motion (Single-stage rocket, propellant mass required).
    • Launch Vehicles and Flight Mechanics (US launch vehicles, gravity turn trajectory, sample mission profiles, launch site constraints CCAS and VAFB).
    • xample Propulsion Systems (Solid rocket characteristics, solid propellants, grain shapes, liquid rocket types, Cassini propulsion system, hybrid propulsion, nuclear propulsion).
    • Electrical Propulsion Systems(Components, electrothermal, arc jet, ion thrusters, examples of pulsed plasma, xenon, and Hall thrusters.
  7. Spacecraft Attitude Determination:
    • Overview (Feedback control).
    • Attitude Kinematics (. (Direction cosines, Euler angles, quaternions, Euler’s geometrical equations, Euler’s kinematical equations).
    • Attitude Determination (Triad algorithm, Kalman filter).
    • Attitude Sensors (Sun sensors, magnetometers, horizon sensors, star sensors, GPS attitude, typical configurations).
    • Rate Sensors (mechanical, optical, laser, resonator and MEMS gyroscopes).
    • Inertial Measurement Units.
  8. Spacecraft Attitude Control:
    • Equations of Motion (Euler equation, dynamic condition for solar powered spacecraft).
    • Environmental Torques (Aerodynamic, gravity-gradient, magnetic, back wired solar cells, radiation pressure, internal generated, swing magnetic test).
    • Attitude Control Methods (Passive, gravity-gradient, magnetic, spin, passive nutation dampers, active, gravity-gradient, thrusters, momentum wheels, dual spin, CMG).
    • Feedback Control (Proportional, integral, and derivate control, characteristics of PID control, effects of control laws, bang-bang control, B dot control, Laplace transforms).
    • Control Example (Pitch control example). Actuators (Reaction control thrusters, control moment gyros, momentum and reaction wheels, magnetic torquers, example of each).
    • Libration and Nutation Dampers (Precession and nutation, hysteresis rods, examples).
    • Attitude Control Systems (Magnetic, spin, dual-spin, gravity-gradient, inertial with examples including NEAR spacecraft).
    • Supplemental Attitude Control Systems.
  9. Spacecraft Power Systems:
    • Introduction (Functions and components, potential power systems, power growth by design milestone, use of nuclear power).
    • Nuclear Reactors (Types, thermoelectric and thermionic conversion, nuclear power systems launched).
    • Radioisotope Generators (Description, developed systems, availability of plutonium 238, GPHS-RTG, MMRTG, RTG degradation, ASRTG). Fuel Cells (Description, types, examples).
    • Solar Thermal Dynamic (Principles).
    • Battery Principles (Components, types, battery parameters, selection process).
    • Primary Batteries (Requirements, types, characteristics and performance).
    • Secondary Batteries (requirements, types, characteristics and performance, operating characteristics. Improving battery life, example battery configurations) Solar-Orbital Geometry (Solar constant, Stefan-Boltzmann law, shadowing, beta angle, charging requirements).
    • Solar Cell Basics (Semiconductor constituents, diode construction, forward and reverse bias, schematic, multijunction cell, cell efficiencies, cell shadowing, bypass and blocking diodes, I V curve, effect of illumination, temperature, and radiation, constructions, radiation damage coefficients).
    • Solar Arrays (Array sizing, concentrators). Power System Control (Direct energy transfer, peak power tracking, various charge control approaches, bus regulation).
    • Design Principles (Development process, requirements and constraints, analysis example).
    • Power System Designs (Example system configurations).
  10. Space Communications:
    • Mathematics (dB, Fourier transform, examples, up and down converting).
    • Overview (Functions, tracking, telemetry, commands, transceiver, heterodyning, receiver characteristics, NEAR system).
    • Radio Spectrum (Frequency bands, frequency control, NASA spectrum, communication satellite frequencies).
    • Antennas (Types, isotropic, EIRP, wire antenna, beamwidth, power gain, dish, cassegrain, gregorian, polarization, faraday rotation, polarization mismatches, compute parabolic gain and beamwidth, pointing error loss, power transfer equations, space loss).
    • Noise (central limit theorem with examples, Gaussian distribution, cross correlation, autocorrelation, power spectral density, white noise, thermal noise, noise temperature, system noise temperature, noise factor and figure, antenna noise).
    • Link Analysis (Equations, sensitivity ratio, calculate receiver sensitivity, signal to noise ratio, example link analysis).
    • Analog Communications (Modulation types). Pulse Code Modulation(Filtering, sampling, quantization, encoding, Nyquist sampling theorem, examples, line codes)
    • Digital Communications (Receiver characteristics, correlation or matched filter with examples, matched filter performance, ASK, FSK, PSK, intersymbol interference, raised cosine filter, bit error rate with examples)
  11. Spacecraft Thermal Control:
    • Introduction (Function, development process, mission phases, temperatures ranges, temperature margins).
    • Design Process (Design sequence, design process, evaluation criteria). Thermal Environment (Heat sources, blackbody, albedo, sample computer simulation).
    • Heat Transfer Basics (Convection, conduction, radiation, emittance, absorptance, view factors, nearby surfaces).
    • Analysis Methods (Lumped parameter, finite difference, finite element, example analyses, worst case parameters).Thermal Control Components (coatings, second surface mirrors, MLI, radiators, louvers, heat pipes, phase change materials, heat sinks, doublers, thermal isolators, RHUs).
    • Thermal Analyses (Heat balance, example analytic solutions, numerical simulation).
    • Bakeout (Outgassing, ASTM-E595 standard, GSFC data base).
    • Thermal Tests (Thermal balance, thermal vacuum, thermal cycle).
    • Sample Thermal Control Systems.
  12. Spacecraft Structures:
    • Introduction (Function and constraints, design objectives, requirements) Launch Vehicles (launch profile, mechanical loads, quasi-static, random, acoustic, shock, separation device, NASA standard initiator, fairings, attach flanges, required documentation, coupled loads analysis, notching).
    • Design Process (Deliverables, load path, load cycle, quasi-static analysis, Miles equation).
    • Types of Structures (Primary, secondary, fasteners, structure mass fraction, honeycomb materials, spacecraft examples).
    • Stress Analysis (Stress strain, normal stress, shear stress, beam shear and moment, Poisson’s ratio, section moduli, buckling).
    • Structural Dynamics (Force and displacement transmissibility, natural frequency and modes).
    • Mass Estimates (Expected and unplanned growth, examples, reserve, margin, contingency, mass growth assessments, typical mass densities,).
    • Materials (Material properties, composites).
    • Finite Element Analyses (Description, method, example analysis, FEM process, spacecraft FEM results compared to test).
    • Test Verification (Models developed, test categories, strength tests, vibration tests, acoustics, shock, spin balance, appendage deployment, example spa and mass properties tests).
  13. Introduction to CubeSats:
    1. NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative (Description, process, announcements of opportunities, development process, requirements, timeline).
    2. Cubesat Dispensers (Generic description, commercial dispensers, P-POD, NASA nanosatellite launch adapter, Tyvak, Nanoracks and ULA dispensers).
    3. Design Specifications (Design documents available, cubesat design specification rev. 13, 6U Cubesat Design Specification Rev 1.0).
    4. Cubesat Designs (Selected cubesat designs).
  14. Mission Operations:
    • Introduction (Overview, orbit and trajectory, challenges,).
    • Operational Architectures (Examples, data flow). Concept of Operations and Operations Concept (Concept of operations, operations concept, OpsCon life cycle.
    • Roles and Responsibilities (launch and early operations, sustainment, anomaly responses, closeout).
    • Operational Scenarios (Development, evaluation).
    • Configuration Management (Goals).
    • Enabling Technologies (Important technologies are identified).
    • Staffing (Team formation, composition for complex, medium, and small teams, Space Station team example, shift scheduling, training and certification, cost factors).


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  • Dr. Vincent L. Pisacane was the Robert A. Heinlein Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the United States Naval Academy where he taught courses in space exploration and its physiological effects, space communications, astrodynamics, space environment, space communication, space power systems, and the design of spacecraft and space instruments. He was previously at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where he was the Head of the Space Department, Director of the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Medicine, and Assistant Director for Research and Exploratory Development. He concurrently held a joint academic appointment in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He has been the principal investigator on several NASA funded grants on space radiation, orbital debris, and the human thermoregulatory system. He is a fellow of the AIAA. He currently teaches graduate courses in space systems engineering at the Johns Hopkins University. In addition he has taught short courses on these topics. He has authored over a hundred papers on space systems and bioastronautics.

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