UCLA Extension

Spacecraft Design & Systems Engineering

This course presents an overview of all the factors that affect the design and operation of satellites and spacecraft, starting with a historical review of manned and unmanned spacecraft, and followed by current designs and future concepts. Lectures explore all the design drivers, including launch, on-orbit environment, trajectories, and atmospheric entry as well as launch vehicle engineering and its effect on the spacecraft design. Instruction presents orbital mechanics in a manner that provides an easy understanding of underlying principles, as well as such applications as maneuvering, transfers, rendezvous, and interplanetary transfers.

Complete Details

The course defines the systems engineering aspects of spacecraft design, including the design and incorporation of the payload, the various spacecraft bus components and the relationship to ground control. Instruction then details design considerations, such as structures and mechanisms, attitude sensing and control, thermal effects and life support, propulsion systems, power generation and storage, telecommunications, and command and data handling. Other topics include practical aspects such as fabrication, cost estimation, and testing, while examples of spacecraft failures lend insight into best practices for design.

A number of videos illustrating different concepts supplement lectures, and participants receive a DVD containing an extensive set of design data along with class notes.

This course benefits both Engineers with a particular specialty as well as scientists or instrument specialists who need to obtain a solid background in the “big picture” of spacecraft design and how the pieces of the puzzle must fit together. Managers who want to understand the many aspects of spacecraft design that affect their work, tasks, and scheduling also benefit from this course.

Course Materials

Participants receive lecture notes on the first day of the course. These notes are for participants only and are not otherwise available for sale or unauthorized distribution.

Coordinator and Lecturer

Donald L. Edberg, PhD, Professor of Aerospace Engineering, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Dr. Edberg has over 24 years of experience in the aerospace industry and has been employed at General Dynamics, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, AeroVironment, McDonnell Douglas, and the Boeing Company, where he was a Technical Fellow. He currently teaches astronautics and aerospace vehicle design full-time at Cal Poly Pomona and is the director of its Space and Launch Vehicle Laboratory and Uninhabited Aerospace Vehicle Laboratory. He also has taught aircraft, spacecraft, and structural design courses at UCLA, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine, and has consulted for a number of small companies.

During his career, Dr. Edberg has worked on launch vehicle and on-orbit space environments, aerodynamic testing of launch vehicles at high angles of attack, experimental modal and dynamic analysis, launch vehicle load mitigation, reduction of on-orbit mechanical vibrations, and microgravity isolation systems, as well as the development of an electric-powered, backpackable UAV in service as the FQM-151 Pointer. He holds 10 U.S. patents in aerospace and related fields, and was the inventor of and chief engineer for the patented McDonnell Douglas STABLE (Suppression of Transient Acceleration by Levitation Evaluation) vibration isolation system. STABLE was successfully demonstrated during the flight of Space Shuttle flight STS-73 carrying USML-2 in October 1995.

Dr. Edberg is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and an active UAV pilot.

Course Outline

Space and Launch Vehicle History

  • The Cold War and the Space Race
  • Early unmanned spacecraft
  • Manned spacecraft
  • Apollo
  • Planetary explorers
  • Current and future space vehicles and launch vehicles

Spacecraft Design Drivers, Launch Vehicle Performance, and On-Board Spacecraft Environment

  • Introduction to ascent trajectories, design drivers, launch vehicle performance
  • Vibroacoustic and thermal environments and load factors
  • Launch vehicle constraints: payload attach fitting, payload fairing, payload mass vs. C3

The Space Environment and Its Effects on the Spacecraft

  • Gravitational perturbations
  • Aerodynamic drag
  • Gravity gradient effects
  • Magnetic and solar light pressure effects
  • Outgassing
  • Radiation and effects on electronics
  • Atomic oxygen
  • Orbital debris
  • Internal disturbances

Orbital Mechanics

  • Kepler’s laws
  • Gravitation
  • Energy and momentum conservation
  • Conic sections
  • Orbital elements
  • Special orbits (geostationary, Molniya, sun-synchronous, several others)

Orbital Maneuvers and Rendezvous

  • Orbital transfers, including Hohmann, bielliptic, and fast transfers
  • Plane changes, patched conics, planetary transfers
  • Low-thrust trajectories, aerobraking, gravity assists
  • Rendezvous, timing, Clohessy-Wiltshire equations

Atmospheric Entry Environment

  • Trajectory effects
  • Prediction of orbital decay
  • Aerodynamic braking and heating
  • Deceleration and loads estimation
  • Shape and ballistic coefficient effects
  • Heating profiles and thermal protection methods

Systems Engineering

  • Spacecraft missions and types
  • Engineering design cycle
  • Payload: selection and support requirements
  • Example: design of a remote sensing system
  • Spacecraft bus elements
  • Launch vehicle interface; secondary payloads
  • Mass and power estimation, selection of design margins
  • Reliability


  • Definitions and methodology
  • General arrangement and design drivers
  • Constraints, configuration checklist
  • Structure types, materials


  • Solar panel hinges/deployers, pointing
  • Restraints or launch locks
  • Spin bearings
  • Scan platforms
  • Booms
  • Separation mechanisms
  • Ordnance devices

Structural Analysis

  • Strength and stiffness constraints, design load factors, finite-element modeling
  • Dynamics, acoustics, random vibrations
  • Examples of static and dynamic stress calculations
  • The loads cycle
  • Coupled loads for non-rocket scientists

Attitude Dynamics

  • Three-axis, momentum-bias, gravity-gradient, spinners, dual-spin spacecraft
  • Spinning, repointing/coning maneuvers, precession
  • Moments of inertia, stable and unstable spin
  • Nutation damping

Attitude Sensing

  • Attitude control system block diagrams, pointing accuracy, coordinate systems
  • Sensors: acceleration, angular position, and rate/velocity, IMUs

Attitude Control

  • Thrusters: dual- and monopropellant, dual-mode systems, cold gas
  • Reaction wheels, momentum wheels, control-moment gyros, magnetic torquers
  • Wheel desaturation
  • Gravity gradient effects
  • Control system modes of operation

Thermal Control

  • Heat balance, energy transfer
  • Passive thermal control, including coatings, insulation
  • Louvers, shutters, heaters, cold plates, radioactive heating

Thermal Analysis and Test

  • Radiation
  • Simplified models
  • Finite-element modeling
  • Thermal-vacuum testing

Environmental Control and Life Support Systems

  • Human requirements
  • Atmospheric reconditioning, water purification
  • Waste management
  • Fire suppression and other life support system functions


  • Delta-V and the rocket equation
  • Mass ratios, specific impulse
  • Propulsion systems, including solids, mono- and bi-propellant liquids, cold gas, nuclear, ion propulsion
  • Propulsion system mass estimation examples


  • Power system design procedures
  • Space energy sources
  • Solar arrays: efficiency, degradation, space effects on performance
  • Batteries: sizing, life estimation
  • Solar array and battery sizing example
  • Radioisotope thermal generators
  • System mass estimation examples


  • Telemetry, ranging, ground stations, deep space network
  • Frequency selection, antennas, data link performance

Command and Data Handling

  • Data encoding and commutation
  • Functions of computers and on-board storage
  • Software and software verification

Fabrication and Test

  • Composite structures
  • Testing process, including vibration, shock, acoustics (VS&A), thermal, mechanisms
  • Spacecraft/launch vehicle integration

Failures and Lessons Learned

  • Case studies
  • Independent checks

Cost Estimation

  • Parametric modeling
  • Cost models
  • ROM costing
  • Launch vehicles

For more information contact the Short Course Program Office:
shortcourses@uclaextension.edu | (310) 825-3344 | fax (310) 206-2815