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The University of Southampton

SESA6076 Spacecraft Orbital Mechanics and Control

Module Overview

This module elaborates the fundamental concepts of spaceflight orbital mechanics and introduces trajectory design for planet centred and interplanetary missions. It starts with a short review of the two-body problem and introduces the design and characterisation of planet-centred orbits in presence of perturbations and related orbit transfer manoeuvres. The module investigates the mathematical modelling and analysis of orbital perturbation, Earth-bound and interplanetary trajectory design, gravity assist manoeuvres, and rendezvous & docking. An introduction to concepts of dynamical system theory applied to missions to and around the Libration points of the circular restricted three body problem will be given.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Mathematically describe the mechanics of orbital motion including perturbations
  • Design and calculate inter-orbit transfers
  • Design and perform preliminary analysis of interplanetary trajectories
  • Exploit three-body problem dynamics for mission design and analysis
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Study and learn independently
  • Solve problems systematically using quantitative mathematical methods
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gain an awareness of computer-aided trajectory design and optimisation for space mission design
  • Gain an awareness of dynamical system theory for space mission design


Introduction Chapter 1: Keplerian Orbits and Orbit Representation Chapter 2: Orbital Manoeuvres Chapter 3: Relative Orbital Motion Chapter 4: Orbital Perturbations Chapter 5: Interplanetary Trajectories Chapter 6: Restricted Three-Body Problem Summary and Revision

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods will include 32 hours of lectures and 2 computer labs of 2 hours each. Learning activities include directed reading and independent problem solving.

Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Completion of assessment task3
Follow-up work18
Wider reading or practice65
Specialist Laboratory 4
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Oliver Montenbruck and Eberhart Gill (2011). Satellite Orbits: Models, Methods and Applications. 

R. H. Battin (1999). An Introduction to the Mathematics and Methods of Astrodynamics, Revised Edition. 

Matlab/Python and GMAT. Scientific computing environment and GMAT mission analysis tool (open source) will be used in the computer labs.

D. A. Vallado (2007). Fundamentals of Astrodynamics and Applications (Space Technology Library). 

V. Chobotov (2002). Orbital Mechanics. 

H. Curtis (2009). Orbital Mechanics for Engineering Students. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 20%
Examination  (120 minutes) 80%


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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