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A Quarter-century of Teaching Spacecraft Mission Design

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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

Aerospace Technical Session

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.97.1 - 25.97.24

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Paper Authors


Wallace T. Fowler P.E. University of Texas, Austin

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Wallace Fowler has served on the faculty of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas, Austin, since 1965. He is a Fellow of both the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He served as National President of the ASEE in 2000-01. He currently directs the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium. He was the recipient of the 1985 AIAA/ASEE John Leland Atwood Award and the 1994 ASEE Fred Merryfield Design Education Award.

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A Quarter-Century of Teaching Spacecraft-Mission Design After more than twenty five years of teaching a capstone spacecraft-mission designcourse in an aerospace engineering curriculum, the instructor looks back on the evolution of thecourse and changes in student capabilities. The evolution in course structure, types of projects,project depth, and instructor understanding of the design process are discussed. The effect of thetremendous increase in information available to students through the Internet is discussed. The author was a traditional faculty member who taught engineering analysis coursesuntil he spent a year (1981-82) as a visiting faculty member at the United States Air ForceAcademy (USAFA). During that year, he taught sections of a tightly structured design course.This course, then designated as Engineering 430, was designed by Col. John Wittry. Theexperience was career-changing. The course was tightly structured, designed for instructorsbeginning teaching at the Academy after various non-academic Air Force assignments. This wasan ideal academic environment in which to learn about teaching design. After the year at the USAFA, the author returned to his home institution where heintroduced a spacecraft-mission design course in 1984. At first, this course was an alternativecapstone design course to the traditional aircraft design course. Later, it became a requiredcourse for students choosing a new space flight curriculum option. During this period, thecourse became part of the NASA-USRA Advanced Design Program (ADP) that ran from 1985-1995. Participation in the ADP prompted important improvements in the structure of the course. During the early 1990’s the author also offered a graduate level spacecraft – missiondesign course. The graduate students produced a document that characterized spacecraftsubsystems for use by the undergraduate design students. This document was used by regularlyundergraduate teams until internet access became common, and the information was readilyavailable on the web. In 2007, graduates of the capstone course who had gone on to JPL began to suggestdesign topics for student design teams. This has evolved into a system in which JPL providesdesign topics and mentors for student teams. The mentors work with the teams throughout thesemester and a subset of the JPL mentors come to campus to hear the final oral designpresentations at the end of the semester. Then, in 2008, the introduction to systems engineeringcourse (the subject of an ASEE paper in 2010) was made a prerequisite for the capstonespacecraft-mission design course. The effects of this prerequisite change will be discussed. An appendix will present a list of designs done by student teams since 1984. Otherappendices will present the course timeline, the course syllabus, and the list of deliverablesrequired of the student teams.

Fowler, W. T. (2012, June), A Quarter-century of Teaching Spacecraft Mission Design Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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