Spacecraft Design and Operations - PH508

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Spring 5 15 (7.5) DR M Price checkmark-circle


(1) To provide a basic understanding of the major subsystems of a spacecraft system.
(2) To provide basic frameworks for understanding of spacecraft trajectory and orbits, including interplanetary orbits, launch phase and attitude control.
(3) To provide an awareness of the basic ideas of how space is a business/commercial opportunity and some of the management tools required in business.


Low Earth Orbit Environment
The vacuum, radiation etc environment that a spacecraft encounters in Low Earth Orbit is introduced and its effect on spacecraft materials discussed.

Spacecraft systems
A basic introduction to spacecraft and their environment. Covers Spacecraft structures and materials, thermal control, power systems, attitude control systems, the rocket equation and propulsion.

Project management
This discusses: the evolving framework in which world-wide public and private sector space activities are conceived, funded and implemented. The basics of business planning and management.

Orbital mechanics for spacecraft
Students will find out how basic Celestial Mechanics relates to the real world of satellite/spacecraft missions. Following an overview of the effects of the Earth’s environment on a satellite, the basic equations-of-motion are outlined in order to pursue an understanding of the causes and effects of orbit perturbations. A description is given of different types of orbit and methods are outlined for the determination and prediction of satellite and planetary orbits. Launch phase is also considered, and the module concludes with an assessment of Mission Analysis problems such as choice of orbit, use of ground stations, satellite station-keeping and orbit lifetimes.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

Lectures (30 hours), workshop sessions (4 hours) and tests.
The module is expected to occupy 150 total study hours including the contact hours above.


This is not available as a wild module.

Method of assessment

Coursework 30% including tests and homework;
Final (written, unseen, length 2 hours) exam 70%.

Indicative reading

Recommended texts: Fortescue, Stark and Swinerd, Spacecraft Systems Engineering, Wiley (2003) 3rd ed, [TL875, 6 copies]

  • Roy, Orbital Motion, Adam Hilger, [QB355] (6 copies, 3rd edition).
  • Other useful texts: Griffin and French, Space Vehicle Design, AIAA, [TL875].
    Wertz and Larson, Space Mission Analysis and Design, 2nd ed. Kluwer [TL790]
  • Chetty, Satellite Technology and its Applications, TAB Books, Inc. [TL796]
  • Wertz, Spacecraft Attitude Determination and Control, Reidel Publishing Co. [TL3260].
  • Turner, Rocket and Spacecraft propulsion, pub. Praxis [TL782]

    See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

    Learning outcomes

    Knowledge and understanding of physical laws and principles, and their application to diverse areas of physics focussed on spacecraft design and operations.

  • Knowledge and understanding of aspects of the theory and practice of astronomy, astrophysics and space science, and of those aspects upon which astronomy, astrophysics and space science depends.
  • An ability to identify relevant principles and laws when dealing with problems, and to make approximations necessary to obtain solutions relevant to spacecraft science.
    An ability to solve problems in physics using appropriate mathematical tools.
  • An ability to use mathematical techniques and analysis to model physical behaviour.
  • An ability to comment critically on how spacecraft are designed, their principles of operation, and their use to access and explore space. Also on how they are used in astronomy and astrophysics research.
  • An ability to use mathematical techniques and analysis to model physical behaviour.
  • An ability to make use of appropriate texts, research-based materials or other learning resources as part of managing their own learning.
  • Problem-solving skills, in the context of both problems with well-defined solutions and open-ended problems; an ability to formulate problems in precise terms and to identify key issues, and the confidence to try different approaches in order to make progress on challenging problems. Numeracy is subsumed within this area.
  • Analytical skills – associated with the need to pay attention to detail and to develop an ability to manipulate precise and intricate ideas, to construct logical arguments and to use technical language correctly.


    1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
    2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
    3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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