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The Penn State Student Space Programs Lab: Training The Next Generation Of Space Systems Engineers

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Undergraduate Space Design and Project Courses

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1253.1 - 13.1253.15



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Paper Authors


Sven Bilen Pennsylvania State University

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SVEN G. BILÉN is an Associate Professor of Engineering Design, Electrical Engineering, and Aerospace Engineering at Penn State. He is the Chief Technologist for Penn State's Center for Space Research Programs and Director of the Student Space Programs Lab. He is member of IEEE, AIAA, AGU, ASEE, URSI, and Sigma Xi.

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Brian Schratz Pennsylvania State University

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BRIAN SCHRATZ graduated with a B.S in electrical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University in 2006 and is now pursuing an M.S. in
electrical engineering at Penn State as a NASA Graduate Student Research Program Fellow. As a student, he has been involved in the development and leadership of student balloon, sounding rocket, and satellite projects; he now serves as the Programs Manager for the SSPL.

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

The Penn State Student Space Programs Lab: Training the Next Generation of Space Systems Engineers


This paper addresses the formulation and implementation of the Student Space Programs Lab (SSPL) and its integration into the curriculum at The Pennsylvania State University. The Lab has adopted specific strategies for maintaining continuity in an incredibly dynamic workforce and for sustaining heritage and a knowledge base from one project to the next. A Lab-sponsored first-year seminar course provides an on-ramp and training ground for at least 20 new students each year. The Lab has utilized the resources Penn State has to offer and leveraged opportunities for our students. It also strives to encourage international collaboration as a valuable resource and learning experience for its students. Finally, by providing students the opportunity to participate in SSPL-sponsored projects as part of regular course projects and exercises, the students are able to enhance their educational experience while earning valuable credit towards graduation requirements. Specifically, the Lab supports a Certificate in Space Systems Engineering that formally certifies students’ knowledge, experience and effort in developing space systems.

While the SSPL may be a new organization, recent successes and experiences show that the paradigm shift toward collaborative interdisciplinary efforts improves the student experience. This experience will prepare them to make significant contributions to the area of space science and engineering.


In August of 2006, faculty and students at Penn State established the Student Space Programs Laboratory (SSPL) in an effort to consolidate and formalize student space systems projects at the University and to improve student opportunities. SSPL united a long history of independent student space projects at Penn State. In the past, Penn State students have delivered payloads for multiple high-altitude balloons, microgravity experiments, sounding rockets, and space shuttle “Get Away Specials.” Because of the synergies between projects and because of the growing number and complexity of the projects, the need for a central management structure and systems engineering framework was evident.

The SSPL exists to coordinate current Penn State student space projects and to expose students to the systems engineering process rarely seen in engineering classrooms. The Lab facilitates the sharing of resources between projects, provides effective recruiting to engage students, and supports the infrastructure to attract future student project opportunities. The Lab also coordinates education and public outreach to inspire younger students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

As a development strategy, the SSPL focuses on fostering a collaborative and open environment for its students. By providing a location for students to congregate between classes or to meet for homework discussions, the Lab is a confluence of students from various majors, years,

Bilen, S., & Schratz, B. (2008, June), The Penn State Student Space Programs Lab: Training The Next Generation Of Space Systems Engineers Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3856

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