AAE 59000: Space Flight Operations


Format: 2 lectures per week

Credits: 3

Contact hours: 3

Instructor: Professor Spencer

Text: Uhlig, T., Sellmaier, F., Schmidhuber, M., editors, Spacecraft Operations, Springer, 1st Edition, 2015, ISBN 978-3-7091-4848-8.

Online reference: “Basics of Space Flight,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/basics/

Status: Elective, Aerospace Design

Offered: Spring

Course Description:  Space Flight Operations provides students with a technical foundation in space flight operations for human and robotic missions, and launch vehicle operations.  The first segment of the course covers mission operations architecture, including concept of operations, trade studies, requirements definition, designing for operability, and the use of automation versus human-in-the-loop systems.  The second segment introduces mission operations fundamentals, including mission planning and sequencing, command generation and validation, tracking station operation, spacecraft telemetry, and system fault protection.  The third segment covers mission management topics, including flight team organization, risk management, contingency planning, flight team training, and mission operations cost estimation.  In the fourth segment, the class will review and discuss failure investigation reports for high-profile mission failures spanning human and robotic missions. Guest lectures will be provided from NASA and industry presenters with experience spanning robotic and human spaceflight.

Pre-requisite: This course is open to seniors and graduate students.  There are no fixed prerequisites within the AAE curriculum, and the course may be of interest to non-AAE majors.

Co-requisite: None

Assessment Method:

  • Homework assignments (20%)
  • In-class quizzes (40%)
  • Term paper (15%)
  • Final exam (25%)

Course Objectives:  Specific topics addressed in the course will include:

  • The space environment
  • Planetary atmospheres
  • Space mission architecture, concept of operations, trade studies
  • Requirements definition and flow down
  • Autonomy, fault protection, and safe mode
  • Flight operations roles and responsibilities
  • Operations risk management, anomaly response, contingency planning
  • Space communications, spacecraft commanding and telemetry
  • Spacecraft technical resources: mass, power, telecommunications, thermal, data volume
  • Human space flight considerations
  • Launch operations, launch vehicle staging
  • Planetary launch periods
  • Evaluation of space operations failures

Student Learning Outcomes:  On completing this course the student shall be able to: 

  1. Understand the implications of the mission architecture and spacecraft design to operability
  2. Define mission operations requirements
  3. Understand the benefits and limitations of autonomy in mission operations
  4. Identify mission risks, establish risk mitigations and contingency plans
  5. Evaluate viability of a space mission design based upon technical resource budgets
  6. Understand the basics of launch operations
  7. Appreciate considerations and challenges of human space flight
  8. Understand the causes and consequences of space flight failures, and apply lessons learned

Revision History:

Prepared by: David A. Spencer, January 3, 2017