Understanding Structural Verification: For Space-Mission Hardware


This three-day course for nonstructural engineers provides a rigorous yet understandable look at what it takes to ensure space hardware is structurally safe for flight and able to meet mission objectives. Emphasis is on concepts, processes, and what to look for rather than on equations.

The objectives are to improve your understanding of

  • structural requirements and flight environments
  • how structures and materials behave and how they fail
  • how to establish (or recognize) sound plans, criteria, and processes for ensuring payloads can safely withstand launch and other flight environments
  • how to document verification
  • and how to assess risk when problems arise

Each student will receive a complete set of course notes and the instructor’s reference book, Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms

Who should attend:

Nonstructural engineers, systems engineers, and managers involved in ensuring that launch vehicles and their payloads are structurally ready to fly. Note: This course is a condensed combination of two other Instar courses: SMS (Space-Mission Structures: From Concept to Launch) and STDI (Structural Test Design and Interpretation). We recommend that structurally inclined engineers having in-depth roles in structural design, dynamics, stress analysis, or testing take the SMS and STDI courses instead of USV.

Course Outline:

  1. Overview of Structural Requirements and Verification Structural functions and requirements, effects of the space environment, categories of structures, how launch affects things structurally, understanding verification, available standards
  2. Review of Statics and Dynamics Load and displacement, static equilibrium, the equation of motion, modes of vibration
  3. Flight Environments and How Structures Respond Quasi-static loads, transient loads, coupled loads analysis, sinusoidal and random vibration, acoustics, pyrotechnic shock
  4. Mechanics of Materials Stress and strain, understanding material variation, benefits of ductility, thermoelastic effects, mechanics of composite materials, corrosion, standardization
  5. Introduction to Finite Element Analysis Understanding FEA and stiffness matrices, limitations of FEA, quality assurance for FEA
  6. Verification Planning The building-blocks approach to verification, verification methods and logic, protoflight vs. qualification testing, product inspection, types of tests, verification processes for small flight structures and for large flight structures
  7. Stress Analysis What it means to assess structural integrity, the process for verifying structural integrity, the margin of safety, verifying structural integrity is never based on analysis alone, an effective process for strength analysis, common modes of failure, case histories, fatigue analysis, fracture control
  8. Improving the Loads-cycle Process The traditional loads-cycle process and coupled loads analysis (CLA); improving the process by (a) managing math models, (b) integrating stress analysis with loads analysis, (c) variational CLA to assess sensitivity; potentially eliminating the need for payload-specific CLA for small payloads
  9. Designing an Effective Test Designing a test, configuration and boundary conditions, a key difference between qualification tests and acceptance or proof tests, success criteria and effective instrumentation, preparing to interpret test data
  10. Static Loads Testing Objectives, configuration, load application, designing a static loads test, centrifuge testing
  11. Testing on an Electrodynamic Shaker Test configuration, sine-sweep testing, sine-burst testing, random vibration testing, avoiding over-test with notching and force limiting
  12. Modal Survey Testing and Model Correlation Objectives and target modes, key considerations, checking the test data, correlating the math model
  13. Final Verification and Risk Assessment Overview of final verification, addressing late problems, using estimated reliability to assess risk, example: negative margin of safety, making the launch decision.
  14. Summary


  • Excellent examples were provided throughout the course on best practices.

  • I liked how the course put structural verification in context in each phase of (spacecraft development).

  • I think this content should be mandatory for spacecraft development team members regardless of discipline.

  • Very good course. Much will be useful in (the) future for me. More people need to see this.

  • The final example on risk analysis was excellent, especially for managers!

  • Excellent course, Tom. Perfect in breadth and depth. Well presented, well organized.

  • Instructor was excellent—great examples!


This course is not on the current schedule of open enrollment courses. If you are interested in attending this or another course as open enrollment, please contact us at (410)956-8805 or at ati@aticourses.com and indicate the course name and number of students who wish to participate. ATI typically schedules open enrollment courses with a lead time of 3-5 months. Group courses can be presented at your facility at any time. For on-site pricing, request an on-site quote. You may also call us at (410)956-8805 or email us at ati@aticourses.com.


  • Tom Sarafin has worked full time in the space industry since 1979, with over 13 years at Martin Marietta Astronautics and Instar Engineering, where he contributed to and led activities in structural analysis, design, and test, mostly for large spacecraft. He’s consulted for Space Imaging, DigitalGlobe, AeroAstro, and other companies. 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

       (all three editions). Since 1995, he’s taught well over 100 courses to more than 3000 engineers and managers in the space industry.


  • Poti Doukas of Instar Engineering 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. He’s a contributing author to Space Mission Analysis and Design (1st and 2nd editions) and to Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms: From Concept to Launch. He joined Instar Engineering in July 2006.

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

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