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Spacecraft Integration and Test: An Undergraduate Course in Systems Engineering Practice

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Spacecraft Design Education

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1170.1 - 25.1170.10



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Paper Authors


Michael A. Swartwout Saint Louis University

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Michael Swartwout is an Assistant Professor in aerospace and mechanical engineering at Parks College, Saint Louis University. He earned his Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. As a graduate student, he led the development of the student-built satellite, Sapphire, which was launched in 2001. Starting at Washington University in St. Louis and continuing at Parks, Swartwout has been involved in four student missions on the space shuttle and numerous balloon-launched student experiments, as well as flights on NASA's Microgravity University. His student teams have been in five consecutive Air Force University Nanosat competitions, taking second place three times. Their next student satellite, COPPER, is slated to launch in June 2012 as part of NASA's ELANA-IV flight. Swartwout's research interests center on the design and operation of low-cost space systems.

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Sanjay Jayaram Saint Louis University

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Sanjay Jayaram is an Associate Professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department of Saint Louis University. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in the area of mechanical engineering from University of Central Florida in 2004. He teaches control systems/mechatronics, space systems engineering and astronautics related courses as well as engineering sciences courses. He has published several peer reviewed journal and conference papers in these areas. His research areas are space systems, robust fault tolerant control, nonlinear control, adaptive control, small spacecraft design, high performance spacecraft components, mechatronics, real-time health monitoring, and diagnostic methodology.

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Spacecraft Integration & Test: An undergraduate course in systems engineering practiceMichael SwartwoutSanjay JayaramSaint Louis UniversityThe teaching of good systems engineering practice to undergraduates requires thatstudents gain practical experience in designing, assembling and operating complexsystems. The lessons learned from success and failure are a powerful aid tounderstanding, but it is very difficult to find appropriately-scoped projects that cansupplement classroom activity. The need for practical experience and the challenges increating opportunities are very evident in the area of spacecraft integration & test (I&T):a large fraction of a space project's budget and schedule are devoted to I&T, and many in-space failures could be avoided through proper testing.Faculty at Saint Louis University (SLU) have created a candidate course for trainingundergraduates in systems engineering through integration & test. This course blends thetheoretical principles of integration & test with the practical constraints of preparing asmall student-built spacecraft for launch. It introduces four heurestics of spacecraft I&T:(1) the ground, launch and space environments are unforgiving and spacecraft are proneto failure; (2) complex systems rarely (if ever)work properly the first time they areassembled; (3) there will never be enough time or money to "properly" test everything;(4) the driving force behind most decisions in space system development is the fear offailure. From these first principles, we can explain the rationale behind and processesused in major environmental and functional testing. We also can justify the developmentof massive systems for documentation.In parallel with the theoretical work, students are responsible for designing, conductingand analyzing spacecraft acceptance tests for a small satellite, and preparing the testreports for evaluation by NASA. NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatelllites (ELaNa)program appears to be an ideal platform for improving space systems education.In this paper, we will outline our approach for teaching spacecraft integration & testthrough a classroom and laboratory exercise. We will report on the challenges in scopeand schedule as we attempted to keep the program within a 3-unit, 1-semester course.Results of the student, faculty and industry assessments will be reported. Finally, we willalso examine whether this approach could be used in other programs and/or on projectsother than student satellites.

Swartwout, M. A., & Jayaram, S. (2012, June), Spacecraft Integration and Test: An Undergraduate Course in Systems Engineering Practice Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21927

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