The University of Southampton

SESA2024 Astronautics

Module Overview

This module introduces the fundamental concepts of astronautics and spacecraft engineering and applies the design approach to two separate case studies: the first for an interplanetary mission and the second for an Earth observation mission.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Give the student an understanding into the critical performance parameters and design approach to enable them to perform a basic concept design for various mission types.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The fundamentals of spacecraft engineering
  • The ‘top down’ approach to spacecraft design
  • The role of top-level trade-offs within the system design process in driving design decisions
  • The payload design and operation in a particular case, and how this drives the space vehicle design
  • The role of Mission Analysis in the spacecraft design process
  • The spacecraft industry
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Perform top-level design and performance calculations in each of the major spacecraft subsystem areas
  • Make qualitative judgements of the relative merit of top-level design options in satisfying mission requirements
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Study and learn both independently and in groups.
  • Communicate work in written reports.
  • Demonstrate study and time management skills.
  • Solve problems systematically
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Study and learn both independently.
  • Communicate work in written reports.
  • Demonstrate study and time management skills.
  • Solve problems.
  • Appreciate the trade-offs within an engineering system design process


Introduction (1 lecture) Chapter 1 – Systems Engineering (1 lecture) Introduction to spacecraft subsystems, the design approach from an industrial perspective Chapter 2 – Environment (2 lectures) Space, near Earth and launch environment Chapter 3 – Launch Vehicles (2 lectures) The rocket equation, the rocket equation applied to launch vehicles, launch system characteristics Chapter 4 – Payload (1 lecture) Types, operation, interface requirement Chapter 5 – Mission Analysis (5 lectures) Orbit selection, Keplerian (idealised) orbits, co-planar orbit transfers Chapter 6 – Attitude Control (2 lectures) Spacecraft angular momentum, types of spacecraft stabilisation, the closed loop system, impact on the spacecraft design Chapter 7 – Propulsion (2 lectures) Types, fundamental performance parameters, chemical systems, electrical systems Chapter 8 – Power (2 lectures) Power sources, solar arrays, power storage (batteries), sizing up the system component Chapter 9 – Communications (2 lectures) Frequencies, encoding, modulation, bandwidth, the communications link analysis Chapter 10 – Thermal Control (2 lectures) Material properties, spacecraft thermal balance, thermal control Example Classes (2 lectures) Coursework Briefing (1 lecture) and Tutorial (1 lecture) Chapter 11 - A spacecraft design case study (12 lectures) A specific spacecraft type and mission is chosen, and treated as a case study to illustrate spacecraft design features. Candidate spacecraft missions are (i) communications, (ii) remote sensing, (iii) science, (iv) interplanetary. Candidates (i) to (iii) are confined to Earth orbiting missions. This chapter comprises: Overview of Mission Objectives (1 lecture) Spacecraft Payload (2 lecture) Review of payload types suitable/available for proposed mission. Selection of payload. Study of payload operation to provide a mission and payload interface requirements. Mission Analysis (4 lectures) Assessment of payload derived mission requirements to establish candidate mission orbits. Orbit trade-off and mission specification. Spacecraft System Design (1 lecture) Identification of subsystem design requirements, and system design drivers. Establishment of candidate configurations. Feasibility study phase trade-off. Selection of spacecraft configuration. Subsystem Design (4 lectures) Overview of subsystem design, taking account of interactions and drivers for the particular mission: attitude control, propulsion, spacecraft power, thermal control, communications, structures. Impact of ground segment and operations.

Special Features


Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include lectures andcoursework tutorial sessions. Learning activities include directed reading, problem solving and report writing.

Completion of assessment task10
Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Wider reading or practice26
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Graham Swinerd (2008). How Spacecraft Fly – Spaceflight without Formulae. 

Fortescue, Swinerd & Stark (Editors),. Spacecraft Systems Engineering. 


Assessment Strategy



Tutorial sheets


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework/ Case Study 15%
Exam  (120 minutes) 85%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisite module/s: FEEG1002 Mechanics, Structures And Materials 2016-17 and MATH1054 Mathematics For Engineering And The Environment 2016-17.

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