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A Dual Undergraduate/Graduate Course in Space Mission Failures

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Spacecraft Design Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.41.1 - 25.41.12



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Paper Authors


Sanjay Jayaram Saint Louis University

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Sanjay Jayaram is an Associate Professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department of Saint Louis University. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in the area of mechanical engineering from University of Central Florida in 2004. He teaches control systems/mechatronics, space systems engineering and astronautics related courses as well as engineering sciences courses. He has published several peer reviewed journal and conference papers in these areas. His research areas are space systems, robust fault tolerant control, nonlinear control, adaptive control, small spacecraft design, high performance spacecraft components, mechatronics, real-time health monitoring, and diagnostic methodology.

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Michael A. Swartwout Saint Louis University

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Michael Swartwout is an Assistant Professor in aerospace and mechanical engineering at Parks College, Saint Louis University. He earned his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. As a graduate student, he led the development of the student-built satellite, Sapphire, which was launched in 2001. Starting at Washington University in St. Louis and continuing at Parks, Swartwout has been involved in four student missions on the space shuttle and numerous balloon-launched student experiments, as well as flights on NASA's Microgravity University. His student teams have been in five consecutive Air Force University Nanosat competitions, taking second place three times. Their next student satellite, COPPER, is slated to launch in June 2012 as part of NASA's ELANA-IV flight. Swartwout's research interests center on the design and operation of low-cost space systems.

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A Dual Undergraduate/Graduate Course in Space Mission FailuresAbstractTeaching and learning about reasons for engineering failures offer students valuable insights and practicalexperience into the technical, project management, experimental, ethical, and professional issues facedby practicing engineers on a daily basis. Even though space missions and spacecraft systems are designedto operate in the presence of multiple failures, yet, occasionally, these systems will still fail spectacularly.The reasons for failure include incorrect design decisions, operator error, manufacturing defects, andlack of proper subsystem and system level integration and test. The odds of these failures occurring canbe significantly reduced through good systems engineering practice. But, in some cases, the verysystems engineering practices themselves directly contribute to the failure. The lessons learned fromsuccess and failures are a powerful aid to understanding, but it is very difficult to find appropriately-scoped projects that can supplement classroom activity.Faculty at Saint Louis University has created a candidate course in the area of space mission failures forundergraduate and graduate students. This dual undergraduate and graduate course was developed tointroduce the fundamentals of good systems engineering practice to space systems engineering students.This course introduces five heuristics of space mission failures, (1) understand the systems engineeringprocess, (2) Recognize and explain the tradeoffs between budget, schedule, performance and risk,including the consequences of these trades, (3) Identify the six categories of mission failure(environment, design, assembly, parts, operation and budget), (4) Use engineering documents and failurereports to classify mission failures by cause and type, and, (5) applying these principles to universityspacecraft development projects. A series of case studies in failures (rockets, spacecraft, rovers, etc.)was used to illustrate these principles and the new vulnerabilities they introduce.In this paper, we will outline our approach for teaching space mission failures by presenting thefundamental structure of the course with course objectives and various topics covered. The paper willalso present the student assessment as well as the course assessment and example case studiesdeveloped by the students.

Jayaram, S., & Swartwout, M. A. (2012, June), A Dual Undergraduate/Graduate Course in Space Mission Failures Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20801

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