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Evolution Of A Class In Spacecraft Design: Experiences Gained Over A Decade Of Teaching

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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 I

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Page Count


Page Numbers

12.703.1 - 12.703.11



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Paper Authors

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Michael McGrath University of Colorado at Boulder

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

1/25/2007 4:25:00 PM

Evolution of a Class in Spacecraft Design: Experiences Gained over a Decade of Teaching

Abstract. Spacecraft Design at the University of Colorado at Boulder is a project-based approach to the design of an unmanned spacecraft mission, focused at the senior and graduate level. Teams of students produce a Concept Study Document and series of oral presentations for a hypothetical NASA Announcement of Opportunity. The class incorporates subsystem lectures and student presentations with the goal of imparting a systems engineering view to the design of a spacecraft without attempting to teach systems engineering. Strengths and weaknesses of a classroom approach to developing competence in the subject matter are discussed. Similarities and differences between the experience of a classroom environment are contrasted to the Student Nitric Oxide Explorer (SNOE) student spacecraft build. Plans for expanding the class to include the study of a future NASA/ESA mission are reviewed.

The approach for designing a spacecraft, and the knowledge of process and procedures needed to do so, have been developed from experiences gained from trial-and-error learning since the space age began more than half a century ago. Systems that go into space are varied, and can be designed to be unmanned and manned, with a historical difference being the cost premium that the presence of a human in the system puts on safety and reliability. Unmanned satellites within the NASA environment, the focus of the class and this paper, were once treated in a substantially different way from a safety and reliability approach, but given significant costs for even the simplest of spacecraft, the differences in the design process for unmanned and manned vehicles are disappearing as safety and reliability requirements evolve to be similar to manned vehicles. This change across NASA is principally due to processes implemented following the Challengeri disaster, and further modified after the Columbiaii accidents, and has resulted in a pronounced risk adversity within NASA in all areas. It also seems to be the case that as the first generation of space engineers enter retirement, the hands-on lessons learned experiences are also being lost. To offset the loss of expertise, the focus within NASA today is on process and procedure, with the intent that by following established approaches to design and implementation, that this will keep reliability in place. The viability of this approach is debated broadly today as ever increasing costs and longer schedules erode the available budget resources.

Universities have played a key role in space and can continue to do so. Universities have been a place where the undertaking higher risk projects within stricter funding guidelines have been accomplished with two goals: 1) to accomplish the task to the best of the available ability; and 2)

McGrath, M. (2007, June), Evolution Of A Class In Spacecraft Design: Experiences Gained Over A Decade Of Teaching Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2226

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