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SESA6071 Spacecraft Propulsion

Module Overview

This module considers the basic theory and principles of operation of chemical and electric propulsion systems for spacecraft. Both solid and liquid propellant chemical propulsion systems are considered, as is a variety of electric propulsion systems utilising different propellant acceleration mechanisms.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To gain an understanding of the various types of propulsion systems applicable for launch vehicles and in-space manoeuvring of spacecraft and to be able to analyse and evaluate their main operational and performance characteristics. To be able to determine what particular propulsion system is suitable for a particular mission, allowing for application of the knowledge within industrial and academic settings.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Analyse he design and operational behaviour of various types of spacecraft propulsion systems.
  • Describe types of chemical propulsion systems, and evaluate their use for various different scenarios.
  • Describe types of electric propulsion systems, and evaluate their advantages and disadvantages.
  • Design an electric propulsion system for a particular scenario, and evaluate the design experimentally.
  • Design a chemical propulsion system for a particular scenario, and evaluate the design
  • Appreciate the different propellant feed system options for both chemical and electric propulsion systems, and their similarities/differences.
  • Evaluate the factors that limit the performance of these different propellant feed systems
  • Evaluate the factors that limit the performance of these different propellant feed systems
  • Appreciate the suitability of a given propulsion system for a particular space application


Introduction: • Overview of spacecraft propulsion; • Mass and energy sources for space engines; • Basic theory of thermal jet/rocket engines Chemical propulsion: • Liquid propellant rocket engines; • Solid propellant rocket engines; • Nuclear rocket engines Electric propulsion: • EP basics and classification; • EP with electromagnetic acceleration; • EP with electrostatic acceleration; • EP subsystem components

Special Features

During the laboratory demonstration, the students will be involved in the test preparation procedure and will be able to observe a running thruster and variation of the thruster performance parameters by changing the physical and electrical parameters. The acquired data should be post processed by the students.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, Workshops and Laboratory demonstration

Independent Study116
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Fortescur, Swinerd and Stark. Spacecraft System Engineering. 

Sutton & Biblarz. Rocket Propulsion Elements. 

Dan M Goebel. Fundamentals of Electric Propulsion: Ion and Hall Thrusters. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 80%
Workshop Report Assessment 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: SESA2024 and SESA3039

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