Course Description

Lecture Overview
Lab Overview


The lectures for this class present real-world mission analysis and orbit mechanics in such a way that it can be understood by students with minimal background in space mission analysis. Although basic Physics and Calculus will be a big help, the only prerequisites for the series are a healthy curiosity and an open mind.

Each lecture will include something for everyone because, for each topic below, I intend to relate the subject material to an actual mission or mission design activity in my personal experience. After the lectures, I will help interested students learn to use the material. I will demonstrate software implemented recently that will permit them to do their own mission analysis. Because much of the software I shall demonstrate will be from the Mission Analysis Evaluation and Space Trajectory Operations (MAESTRO) program, parts of the series may be of interest to computer program designers as well as orbit mechanics people.


The lab will focus on learning to use software tools for mission design (particularly interplanetary mission design). The lab will include an introduction to STK, as well as more advanced STK training, including using Astrogator for mission design. During the lab, code will be developed to solve Lambert's problem (and make pork-chop plots) and to assist with gravity swing-bys. Other software tools developed by Chauncey Uphoff and JPL employees will also be introduced (pending license agreements). The lab will culminate in a semester project that will involve designing an interplanetary mission with gravity assists using STK and material from the lectures.


Lecture 1

Series Overview. A Short History of the Space Program and the Lecturer. Previews, Historical Perspective, and Movies. Course questions.

Lecture 2

Interplanetary Mission Design; Lambert's Problem and the Zero-Patched Conic Method: Rutherford's Atom. B-plane targeting and transfer geometry. Entry, Descent, and Landing. Launch-Arrival Opportunities (Pork-chop) plots.

Lecture 3

Practical Aspects of the Restricted Three-Body Problem: Jacobi's Integral and the Zero-Patched Conic. DE = n' Dhz.

Lecture 4

The Rocket Equation: A Cosmic Inelegance. Aerobraking & Aerocapture. Introduction to Optimal Transfer/Staging. Lagrange multipliers. Low-thrust optimization.

Lecture 5

Gravity Assisted Mission Design: Orbit Pumping and Cranking, Resonance Hopping; the Jupiter Flower Orbit, the Double Lunar Swingby.

Lecture 6

The BackFlip: 180o Moon-to-Moon Transfer and its Application to Double Lunar Swingby Trajectories and Lunar Cycler Orbits. Movies. GEO via Lunar Gravity Assist.

Lecture 7

The Art & Science of Lunar Gravity Assist. Celestial acrobatics in cis-lunar space.

Lecture 8

Uncommon Sense in Orbit Mechanics. Einsteinís Theory of Relativity. The Triple Lunar Swingby.

Lecture 9

Orbit Propagation for Close Orbiters in an Oblate Field: The Theories of Brouwer, Kozai, Izsak, and Aksnes. Handy Dandy FORTRAN Subroutines.

Lecture 10

Averaging: Analytical and Numerical Methods; Third Body Perturbations, Drag. Gaussian Quadrature Subroutines.

Lecture 11

Double Averaging: The Analytic Nature of Long-Periodic 3rd-Body Effects. The Work of Lidov and Williams and Lorell. The Orbit of IMP-H (Explorer 35).

Lecture 12

Perturbation Coupling: Balancing of Forces Frozen Orbits (J2/J3), Orbits Frozen by 3rd Body Effects. Long-term Stability. GEO orbits as examples of strong coupling between oblateness and luni-solar perturbations. The two most important forces in the Solar System.

Lecture 12

The Solar Sail: Principles of Light Sailing; the Halley Rendezvous Mission; Mercury Sample Return; the Interplanetary Shuttle. Very Fast Solar Sails.

Lecture 13

Future History: Laser Sails, SEP/NEP, Anti-matter Rockets: Interstellar Travel; Civilization in Space. Answers to course questions. Discussion.

Lecture 14

Student presentation of semester projects.