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Developing An Integrated Curriculum For Small Satellite Engineering

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.178.1 - 4.178.13

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Paper Authors

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Michael J. Caylor

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Bruce Chesley

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Session 2302

Developing an Integrated Curriculum for Small Satellite Engineering Bruce C. Chesley, Michael J. Caylor U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado

An ongoing challenge in undergraduate engineering education is creating a meaningful design curriculum that integrates disciplines and provides hands-on experience for students to learn about science, engineering, and organization management. The U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) has attempted to address this challenge by developing a multi-disciplinary program for undergraduate students to “learn space by doing space.” This program challenges students to design, build, test, launch, and operate a small satellite as part of their course of study. We have found that this program significantly enhances the ability of our students to create aerospace systems in the presence of ambiguity and complexity.

The USAFA small satellite program achieved a significant milestone in October 1997 with the successful launch and operation of the Falcon Gold spacecraft—a student-built experiment to detect GPS signals from near-geosynchronous altitude. Since that time we have been developing FalconSat-1—our first free-flying satellite—for launch in late 1999. Over the course of developing Falcon Gold and FalconSat-1, the small satellite curriculum has matured into a four- semester sequence of courses in spacecraft engineering. Throughout the sequence, students and faculty from multiple disciplines and academic departments play key roles in the development process. In addition, we receive support from several other capstone design projects to address specific needs of the small satellite program.

As with any major curriculum effort, operating a small satellite program with undergraduate students can be a formidable task. In particular, our program requires a substantial commitment of faculty expertise, laboratory resources, external consultants, and funding. These strategic assets must be managed carefully to achieve program objectives. Nonetheless, overcoming these challenges allows for substantial student learning to occur, which is the fundamental reason for this program. Our experience is that both group learning and independent thinking are enhanced, and the curriculum provides first-hand experience in the development of space technology as well as opportunities for discovering new knowledge.

I. Program Objectives and Background

Our fundamental goal with the USAFA small satellite program is to provide a broad, applications-oriented experience of space technology for our undergraduate students. Technology can be defined as the “application of science, engineering, and industrial organization to create a human-built world.”1 Designing, building, and operating a small spacecraft is the focus for experiencing all these aspects of technology. The specific objectives of the USAFA small satellite program are to:

Caylor, M. J., & Chesley, B. (1999, June), Developing An Integrated Curriculum For Small Satellite Engineering Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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