Space Mission Design and Operations

Learn the concepts used in the design of space missions, manned or unmanned, and operations, based on the professional experience of the lecturer.

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Estimated 8 weeks
2–4 hours per week
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About this course

Skip About this course

Space exploration is a very exciting subject. Consider the achievements of Sputnik 1, Yuri Gagarin's first flight in space, the Apollo missions to the Moon, followed by the Shuttle program, the Hubble Space Telescope launch and maintenance on orbit, and finally the assembly and exploitation of the International Space Station. These were challenging undertakings involving space agencies and industrial teams of several nations, and private companies as well. Space telescopes are in service, and several components of the solar system have been and are still actively visited by a number of unmanned probes and robots providing us with precious knowledge about our space environment as well as the far away Universe.

This course builds on university level physics and mechanics to introduce and illustrate orbital dynamics as is applied in the design of space missions. Simple tools will be provided to allow planning of missions on orbit around Earth or in the Solar System. You will learn from the experience of Claude Nicollier, one of the first ESA astronauts, specifically through his involvement in the Shuttle project and his role in the maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope on two occasions.

The course focuses on conceptual understanding of space mechanics, maneuvers, propulsion and control systems used in all spacecraft. You will gain knowledge of the challenges related to the use of the space environment as a platform for scientific and utilitarian purposes.

At a glance

  • Institution: EPFLx
  • Subject: Engineering
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Prerequisites:

    Bachelor level courses in physics, vector analysis, and calculus.

  • Language: English

What you'll learn

Skip What you'll learn
  • Fundamental laws of mechanics and orbital mechanics
  • Orbital maneuvers
  • Types of space missions and their objectives
  • Space environment
  • General concepts of space vehicle architecture
  • Propulsion
  • Attitude determination and control
  • Onboard systems
  • Risk management and reliability
  • Key design elements for successful missions, in particular related to human spaceflight

Unit 0 - Introduction to the Course

• Course objectives
• Motivation behind space exploration and utilization
• The space pioneers, and brief history of human space exploration
• The main space agencies in the world
• Space utilization and exploration

Unit 1 - Introduction to Space Environment

• Review of laws of mechanics
• Introduction to the space environment including the transition from the atmosphere to space, microgravity, the electrical and thermal environments, orbital lifetime, space debris and asteroids/comets collision threats

Unit 2 - Introduction to Orbital Mechanics (I and II)

• Orbital Mechanics I - dynamics of spaceflight; concept of gravitational well; orbital motion; Kepler's Laws; the case of circular orbits
• Orbital Mechanics II - elliptical orbits; reference frames; orbital maneuvers; perturbations of orbital motion; peculiar orbits

Unit 3 - Orbital Mechanics Part III

• Rendezvous in Low Earth Orbit (LEO); relative motion of the chaser vs. the target. Strategy to successfully achieve a rendezvous in LEO

Unit 4 - Orbital Mechanics Part IV

• Interplanetary trajectories; Gravity Assist or Slingshot maneuvers
• Propulsion in space - law of propulsion; concept of specific impulse; types of thrusters; electric propulsion; ascent into space, and re-entry

Unit 5 - Introduction to Space Systems and Space Tethers

• Attitude measurement and control; attitude change; electrical power generation and distribution (overview); thermal balance (overview)
• Space tethers (or cables) as an alternate method to generate electrical power on orbit; Dynamic applications of space tethers, Shuttle-based tether missions
• Reliability; systems redundancy; risk management; safety design for space systems; human rating concept

Unit 6 - The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS)

• Space Shuttle - concept; design; operations; Challenger and Columbia accidents
• ISS; Soyuz and Progress; Logistic supply to ISS with ATV, HTV, and commercial vehicles

Unit 7 - Special Subjects on Human Spaceflight, and Future of Space Exploration

• Extravehicular Activity (EVA) and space suits, space robotics
• Astronaut training , commercial space , suborbital flights
• Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS)
• Future of Space Exploration and Conclusion

About the instructors

Who can take this course?

Unfortunately, learners from one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. edX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.