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Design Of Intelligent Spacecraft: An Interdisciplinary Engineering Education Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Course Innovation II

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.371.1 - 13.371.25



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Paper Authors


Andrew Willis University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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Andrew Willis is an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
He received his B.Sc. in Computer Science and B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic University in Worcester, Massachusetts. After working in industry for four years, Andrew attended graduate school at Brown University where he obtained a Sc.M. in Applied Mathematics and a Sc.M. in Electrical Engineering completing a Ph.D. in Engineering Sciences in 2004. He is a member of the ASEE, IEEE, ACM, AAAS and Sigma Xi. His current research focuses on 3D computer vision, 3D computer graphics, and stochastic inferencing for geometric problems.

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James Conrad University of North Carolina at Charlotte

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


Abstract This paper discusses a highly interdisciplinary course offered to students during the Spring 2007 semester : Design of Intelligent Spacecraft. The course integrates concepts from mathematics, physics, engineering and computer science for the purpose of educating 4th year undergraduate and introductory masters-level students on the design of intelligent spacecraft. Course content is divided into two pedagogically separate parts :

1. The historical development of physical models, including mathematical models for celestial mechanics and thermodynamics.

2. Application of these models for creating intelligent spacecraft, i.e., applications of these models to pattern recognition, computer vision, and image processing. The first section introduces physical mathematical models which, in the second section of the course, are re-visited to allow for model-based design.

In part (1), a new tact is taken for teaching the historical development of mathematics and physics that shapes the scientific view of the world today. Lectures seek to emphasize the rationale behind scientific thought through the variety of personalities that have defined it best characterized by the phrase : All science was new at some point. Specific classical topics include celestial mechanics and thermodynamics which are introduced using excerpts from original works of the scientists that defined and revolutionized our understandings of these fields. Some scientists considered are Aristotle, Tycho, Kepler, Newton, Euler, Bernoulli, Fourier and other scientists relevant to course topics. Where possible, original manuscripts were provided and clarified by reformulating the work in modern terminology and mathematical notation. Historical content is complemented with discussion on contemporary space missions relevant to the discussion topic. For example, historical discussions on the discoveries of Cassini or Galileo includes discussions on the recent Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Further, these discussions include mission spacecraft type, its relevant design considerations and mission objectives. Discussion of mission objectives serve to highlight current boundaries of scientific knowledge and how specific space missions seek to understand topics at these boundaries. In part (2), students implemented programs relevant to spacecraft design. Programs included phys- ical simulations of celestial mechanics, thermodynamics, and signal processing programs for im- age manipulation and signal compression. Project topics reinforce topics covered in part (1) of the course. Results for physical simulations are compared against theoretically perfect results for thermodynamic simulations and established gold-standards from NASA’s HORIZONS system in

Willis, A., & Conrad, J. (2008, June), Design Of Intelligent Spacecraft: An Interdisciplinary Engineering Education Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4009

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