Asee peer logo

Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics For Undergraduates

Download Paper |


2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Innovative Teaching in Engineering/Technology I

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1112.1 - 9.1112.6



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Rachel Shinn

Download Paper |

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

Session 1123

Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics for Undergraduates

Dr. Rachel Shinn

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, AZ


Teaching spacecraft attitude dynamics to undergraduate students is a challenging proposition. The subject has a hefty mathematical base that poses a significant challenge to many aerospace engineering undergraduate students. The challenge for the instructor is to provide a course where students can begin to build their intuition and give them tools to predict how spacecraft behave in space, without the force of gravity. Building this intuition is difficult since the gravity environment is the one we are all most familiar with. In addition, the three dimensional nature of spacecraft adds an additional challenge, as working with matrices and matrix equations are a must.

At Embry-Riddle, the students taking this class have had some introduction to spacecraft attitude dynamics in a brief way in a spacecraft systems course. The course on spacecraft attitude dynamics is meant to give the students depth in attitude dynamics and control that they don’t get in the introductory material given in other courses. The students use what they learn in this course in their spacecraft design course, which is taken simultaneously.

This paper outlines both the tools used in the classroom to help the students visualize the dynamics and the scope of subject matter that help make the course accessible to the undergraduate student. Matlab is used extensively in the course to make the computations less of an obstacle and to enable visualization.

I. Introduction

Few schools teach spacecraft attitude dynamics and control (sometimes called spacecraft attitude determination and control) at the undergraduate level, while many teach it at the graduate level. Even fewer require it as part of the aerospace engineering curriculum. It is taught at the undergraduate level at Virginia Tech1, University of Southern California2, Purdue University3, and the United States Air Force Academy4. At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the course is taught as a required course for the astronautics option within aerospace engineering. Approximately 40 students per year take the course. It is a required co-requisite to the first

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ÆÉ 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Shinn, R. (2004, June), Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics For Undergraduates Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12783

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: © 2004 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