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Development Of A Learning Focused Core Astronautics Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Undergraduate Spacecraft Design II

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

12.509.1 - 12.509.11



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Paper Authors

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Robert Brown U.S. Air Force Academy

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Lynnane George U.S. Air Force Academy

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

Development of a Learning-Focused Core Astronautics Course


A new undergraduate core course in astronautical engineering was developed at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) in 2004. This followed an extensive review of two undergraduate core astronautics courses. The review included two small focus groups and student written assessments from approximately 700 students. Anonymous time logs from every student in the two courses provided a quantitative determination of the amount of time students spent working outside of class. To determine if students had an adequate understanding of space, current and former faculty were surveyed along with space leaders in the Air Force who supervise Academy graduates. As a result of this broad review, it was decided that the two courses should be combined into one large, improved course, which is now taught to approximately 1,000 cadets each year. This new course was redesigned with an emphasis on student learning. Computerized visual animation tools were added to the course, which allowed students to see satellite orbits. These computer-based labs emphasized key concepts from class such as satellite maneuvering, ground tracks, rendezvous, orbit propagation, perturbations, and constellation design. A small table-top satellite, with fully functional subsystems, was also used to demonstrate and reinforce satellite design principles introduced in the text. These principles were then applied to a preliminary satellite design project. New assessment methods using on- line quizzes measured student learning for every lesson. These on-line quizzes required students to prepare for every class. Multiple assessments conducted after the initial offering of this new course showed students were much better prepared for class. Many of the new methods used in this course have since been adapted by other courses, including some courses from other disciplines, with very favorable results.


In the fall of 2003, the Air Force Academy’s department of Astronautics began a major review of two undergraduate core astronautics courses. These courses, which had been taught for over 15 years, covered basic principles of astrodynamics including: two-body orbital mechanics, Kepler’s problem, Hohmann transfers, rendezvous, and interplanetary transfers. The courses also covered rocket propulsion, staging, and launch windows. In addition, about a third of each course was spent covering satellite design, including an overview of payloads and major satellite subsystems. Every cadet at USAFA was required to take one of these two courses. Individual departments decided which course their majors were required to take. One of these courses was taught to approximately 500 students each year, and the other was taught to about 300 students a year.

The smaller course, Astro 320, was more technical and designed for engineering majors and most science majors. It included computer programming projects, which followed some of the astrodynamics topics including converting a satellite’s position and velocity vectors to classical orbital elements and propagating them forward in time. The larger course, Astro 410, did not have any computer programming. The students in this course were typically non-technical majors.

Brown, R., & George, L. (2007, June), Development Of A Learning Focused Core Astronautics Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2695

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