MECH ENG 7073 - Space Vehicle Design

North Terrace Campus - Semester 2 - 2023

The aim of the course is to introduce the students to the basic theories and design criteria of space vehicles. Historical developments in space flight are explained as are the basic rocket equations, as well as the principles of rocket staging and its optimisation. The course includes orbital and trajectory theory, where two-body motion, manoeuvres and special trajectories are described. Numerical integration will be introduced. Individual subsystems are covered in detail. A section about rocket propulsion focuses on performance, propulsion requirements and various propellant systems (monopropellant, bipropellant, solid, cold gas and electrical and electromagnetic propulsion systems). Also covered are environmental control and life support systems, electrical power subsystems, communications and thermal control systems.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code MECH ENG 7073
    Course Space Vehicle Design
    Coordinating Unit School of Mechanical Engineering
    Term Semester 2
    Level Postgraduate Coursework
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact Up to 4.5 hours per week
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange Y
    Incompatible MECH ENG 3104
    Assessment Assignments, project, experiment, final exam
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Dr Nataliia Sergiienko

    Dr Farzin Ghanadi:, Room S324h, extension 32293.
    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    On successful completion of this course students will be able to:

    1 Introduce students to Space Vehicle Design, its complex issues requiring expertise from many different areas of Aerospace Engineering;
    2 Familiarise students with space vehicle types and subsystems;
    3 Provide students with an understanding of the parameters that influence the design of space vehicles including their mission, orbital mechanics and the space environment; and
    4 Equip students with analytical and numerical methods required to solve space vehicle design problems.

    The above course learning outcomes are aligned with the Engineers Australia Stage 1 Competency Standard for the Professional Engineer.
    The course is designed to develop the following Elements of Competency: 1.1   1.2   1.3   1.4   1.5   1.6   2.1   2.2   2.3   2.4   3.2   3.3   3.5   3.6   

    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)

    Attribute 1: Deep discipline knowledge and intellectual breadth

    Graduates have comprehensive knowledge and understanding of their subject area, the ability to engage with different traditions of thought, and the ability to apply their knowledge in practice including in multi-disciplinary or multi-professional contexts.

    1, 3

    Attribute 2: Creative and critical thinking, and problem solving

    Graduates are effective problems-solvers, able to apply critical, creative and evidence-based thinking to conceive innovative responses to future challenges.


    Attribute 3: Teamwork and communication skills

    Graduates convey ideas and information effectively to a range of audiences for a variety of purposes and contribute in a positive and collaborative manner to achieving common goals.

    2, 3

    Attribute 4: Professionalism and leadership readiness

    Graduates engage in professional behaviour and have the potential to be entrepreneurial and take leadership roles in their chosen occupations or careers and communities.

    2, 3

    Attribute 8: Self-awareness and emotional intelligence

    Graduates are self-aware and reflective; they are flexible and resilient and have the capacity to accept and give constructive feedback; they act with integrity and take responsibility for their actions.

    1, 2, 4
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    • Lecture notes
    • M.D. Griffin and J.R. French, Space Vehicle Design: Second Edition, AIAA, 2004. (digital full text available from the library)
    • Peter Fortescue, Graham Swinerd, and John Stark, Spacecraft Systems Engineering, 4th Ed., Wiley, 2011. (digital full text available from the library)
    • James R. Wertz and Wiley J. Larson (editors), Space Mission Analysis and Design: Third Edition, Space Technology Library, 1999. (relevant chapters have been digitised and are available on MyUni)
    Recommended Resources
    • James R. Wertz and Wiley J. Larson (editors), Space Mission Analysis and Design: Third Edition, Space Technology Library, 1999.
    • Charles D. Brown, Elements of Spacecraft Design, AIAA, 2002.
    • Charles D. Brown, Spacecraft Mission Design: Second Edition, AIAA, 1998.
    • Charles D. Brown, Spacecraft Propulsion, AIAA, 1996.
    • H. D. Curtis, Orbital Mechanics for Engineering Students 2nd Edition, Elsevier, 2010.
    • A. Houston and M. Rycroft, Keys to Space, McGraw-Hill, 2003.
    • NASA (
    • NASA JPL, Basics of Spaceflight Learners’ Workbook, D-9774
    • Thomas Sarafin and Wiley Larson (editors), Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms – From Concept to Launch, Microcosm,1995.
    Online Learning

    Copies of assignments and any paper material distributed during class will also be posted on My-Uni.

  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes

    Lectures supported by problem-solving tutorials and a practical laboratory developing material covered in lectures


    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    A three unit course has a minimum workload of 156 hours regardless of the length of the course. It is expected that students spend 48hrs/week during teaching periods, additional time may need to be spent acquiring assumed knowledge, working on assessment during non-teaching periods, and preparing for and attending examinations.

    Formal Contact: Lectures and tutorials: 45 hours,

    Practical: 1.5 hours, Exam: 3 hours

    Suggested personal workload (will vary between students): Reading and revising course material: 30-50 hours, Completion of assignments and practical report: 30-50 hours, Exam preparation: 30-50 hours.

    Learning Activities Summary
    This timetable is indicative only and may change as the course progresses. Any changes will be announced in MyUni.

    Module 1. Introduction - Week 1
    Introduction of space vehicle design, including:
    • History
    • Type of spacecraft
    • Subsystems
    • Design procedure
    • Spacecraft configuration
    • System integration
    Module 2. Astrodynamics - Weeks 2 & 3
    Orbital mechanics, including:
    • Basic of dynamics/orbital mechanics
    • Types of trajectories
    • Orbit transfers
    • Special orbits, e.g. GEO, MEO and HEO
    • Interplanetary missions
    • Patched conics analysis
    Module 3. Propulsion - Weeks 4 & 5
    Analysis and selection of propulsion systems, including:
    • Tsiolkovsky rocket equation and delta-V budget
    • Rocket staging - serial and parallel
    • Rocket mass budget
    • Rocket optimisation
    • Chemical rocket engines
    • Electric propulsion
    Module 4. Atmospheric entry - Week 6
    Atmospheric flight segments, including:
    • Launch
    • Corrections to Tsiolkovsky rocket equation
    • Re-entry
    • Fundamentals of hypersonic aerothermodynamics
    Module 5. Attitude control - Week 7
    Determine and control spacecraft orientation, including:
    • Attitude control concepts
    • Sensors
    • Actuators
    • Disturbances
    Module 6. Thermal control - Week 8
    Control spacecraft temperature, including:
    • Thermal environment
    • Thermal constraints
    • Thermal analysis
    • Thermal design
    Module 7. Electrical power system - Week 9
    Control spacecraft temperature, including:
    • Power system elements
    • Primary power source
    • Secondary power source
    • Power budget
    Module 8. Communication subsystem - Week 10
    Communications and data-handling, including:
    • CDH concepts
    • Link budget
    Module 9. Structures and mechanisms - Week 11
    Spacecraft structure, including:
    • Assembly
    • Mechanisms
    • Launch loads
    Module 10. Spacecraft environment - Week 11
    Spacecraft environmental effects, including:
    • Effects on materials
    • Effects on humans
    • Mitigation strategies
    Course review, summary and exam preparation - Week 12
    Specific Course Requirements

    Students will be required to adhere to laboratory conduct safety guidelines for the practical component of this course.

  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment Task Weighting (%) Individual/ Group Formative/ Summative
    Due (week)*
    Hurdle criteria Learning outcomes
    Assignments (5×) 20 Individual Summative Weeks 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 1. 2. 3. 4.
    Project 15 Group Summative Week 11 1. 2. 3. 4.
    Quizzes (10×) 5 Individual Summative Weeks 1-9, 12 1. 2. 3. 4.
    Laboratory 10 Individual Summative Hurdle  2. 4. 
    Exam 50 Individual Summative Exam period 1. 2. 3. 4. 
    Total 100
    * The specific due date for each assessment task will be available on MyUni.
    This assessment breakdown is registered as an exemption to the University's Assessment for Coursework Programs Policy. The exemption is related to the Procedures clause(s): 1. b. 2.   
    This course has a hurdle requirement. Meeting the specified hurdle criteria is a requirement for passing the course.
    Assessment Related Requirements

    In order to pass this course, students must achieve a pass grade for the microgravity performance laboratory.

    Assessment Detail
    • Final exam is a 3-hour long open book exam, to be conducted during the formal university examination period.

    • There will be 5 assignments in total. These are individual assignments (no collaboration). These will be distributed during class and also placed on MyUni. Due dates for these assignments may be subject to change; any changes will be announced in-class, written on the assignment, and posted on MyUni at the time the assignment is first distributed.

    • The microgravity laboratory is run as part of the formal Level III laboratories.

    Submission of assessments will be made digitally through MyUni unless otherwise specified.

    Late submission is not permitted for some assessments. When late submission is permitted, it will be penalised at a rate of 10 % per day. The penalty is rounded up in increments of 10 %. Any assignment submitted more than seven days after the deadline will receive a zero grade. There will be no opportunities for re-submission of work of an unacceptable standard.

    Extensions will only be given in accordance with the Modified Arrangements for Coursework Assessment (MACA) Policy.

    Assignments will be assessed and returned within 4 weeks from submission (usually significantly less).
    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

    Students are reminded that in order to maintain the academic integrity of all programs and courses, the university has a zero-tolerance approach to students offering money or significant value goods or services to any staff member who is involved in their teaching or assessment. Students offering lecturers or tutors or professional staff anything more than a small token of appreciation is totally unacceptable, in any circumstances. Staff members are obliged to report all such incidents to their supervisor/manager, who will refer them for action under the university's student’s disciplinary procedures.

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