Asee peer logo

Laboratory Instruction In Undergraduate Astronautics

Download Paper |


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

4.355.1 - 4.355.11

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Christopher Hall

Download Paper |

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

Session 2302

Laboratory Instruction in Undergraduate Astronautics

Christopher D. Hall Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


One significant distinction between the “standard” educational programs in aeronautical and astro- nautical engineering is the extent to which experimental methods are incorporated into the curricu- lum. The use of wind tunnels and their many variations is firmly established in the aeronautical engineering curricula throughout the United States. In astronautical engineering, however, there do not appear to be any standard experimental facilities in wide use. This is understandable, given the unique environment in which spacecraft operate; however, there are several facilities which could fill this role, some of which are already in place at universities with a strong space emphasis. The purpose of this paper is to describe some of these facilities and their uses in teaching undergraduate astronautics.

We begin by describing the topics in astronautics that are distinct from other topics in aerospace engineering. We then describe a variety of field exercises and laboratories that can be used to enrich the teaching of astronautics. These exercises focus on satellite “observation,” both visually and using amateur radio receivers. Additional laboratories described include a Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics and Control Simulator, and a “design, build, and fly” project to be launched in late 2001.

Topics in Astronautics

Some topics in aerospace engineering, such as structures, are common to both aeronautics and astronautics, so that related laboratories benefit both parts of the curriculum. There are however some space-specific topics that typically have no laboratory component, primarily related to the motion of spacecraft. Satellite motion is a complicated combination of the orbital motion of the satellite around the earth and the attitude, or pointing, motion of the satellite platform. The overall motion is affected by gravity, controlled thrusters, material outgassing, motion of internal compo- nents of the satellite, solar radiation pressure, atmospheric drag, and other forces. The study of satellite dynamics and control is typically divided into astrodynamics and attitude dynamics, with additional applied material on spacecraft design.

Kepler (1571–1630) and Newton (1642–1727) laid the foundations for the subject of astrodynam- ics as it is taught today. Kepler’s three laws were formulated from curve-fitting of the carefully recorded astronomical observations of Tycho Brahe (1546–1601):

1. The orbit of each planet is an ellipse with the Sun at one focus.

2. The line joining the planet to the Sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times.

Hall, C. (1999, June), Laboratory Instruction In Undergraduate Astronautics Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 1999 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015