Spacecraft Propulsion

ASTE 470

Department of Astronautical Engineering (ASTE)

Viterbi School of Engineering (VSOE)

University of Southern California (USC)

Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering (MS ASTE)

MS ASTE - Frequently asked questions

MS ASTE - schedule of courses

Program history

USC Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering: Overview (53 min)

Mike's ASTE 520 Spacecraft System Design

who should take course ASTE 470 Spacecraft Propulsion  aste470 spacecraft 

MS ASTE Program Update

books by mike gruntman   Mike's books

North Korea satellite launch
Applying ASTE-520: Satellite Launch by North Korea in 2012

Advanced degrees in astronautical engineering for the space industry,
Acta Astronautica, 2014

gruntman acta astronautica 2014

ASTE 470 in Fall 2017 semester:
all course materials will be posted
on the class web site at DEN in mid August.

One can get more information about the course
from the first Fall-2016 (introductory) lecture:
ASTE 470 – first lecture.

In 2017–2018 academic year, ASTE470 Spacecraft Propulsion
is offered in the Fall 2017 semester (Friday, 5:10–7:50 pm);
the course is not offered in the spring 2018 semester.
See astronautics course schedule

Class enrollement is unlimited.

Note that shedules do change.
Always check the course schedule with ASTE Student Advisor.

Course webcasts. All lectures are available as webcasts through VSOE's Distance Education Network DEN to all (on-campus and remote) students enrolled in the course during the entire semester.

PC or Mac. DEN streams course videos using Microsoft Windows media encoders and servers. While streaming windows media files are supported by both the latest Mac and PC operating systems, using a Windows based system will usually provide a better experience. Additionally, DEN has recently added video download capabilities using Microsoft’s Digital Rights Management supporting Windows operating systems.

Instructor: Mike Gruntman

Mike Gruntman's web site on Astronautics and Spacecraft Design

Recommended books (textbooks and monographs) on Astronautics, Spacecraft Design, Spacecraft Systems, Propulsion, and Rocketry

For fun

Sputnik 1        Explorer 1        Vanguard 1

Lecture: 1 hr 10 min The road to spaceThe Road to Space. The First Thousand Years.

Fifty years ago in October of 1957, the first artificial satellite of the Earth was launched into space.
The lecture focuses on the history of the events that led us to the space age.

rocket equation coffee mug for rocket scientists rocket equation mousepad for rocket scientists rocket equation T-shirt for rocket scientists yes-to-engineering sticker for rocket scientists  –  other rocket science items

Space: from firecrackers to interstellar flight Space: From Firecrackers to Interstellar Flight

Part 1. The First Thousand Years(webcast 87 min)
Part 2. Space in 21st Century (webcast 84 min)

Socks for the First Cosmonaut of Planet Earth   Gruntman -- Socks for Gagarin

Video clips on satellite orbits and space
Molniya orbit     GPS satellite constellation

list of videos (pdf)  

About Course ASTE 470

  • ASTE 470 Spacecraft Propulsion is usually taken by astronautical engineering undergraduate and graduate studens as well as many other science (physics, astronomy, mathematics) and engineering (electrical, mechanical, aerospace, chemical, systems, computer, and other) students.

  • This class is required for the degree Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering.

  • The course offers a broad introduction to fundamentals of spacecraft and rocket propulsion and to rocketry.

  • This class is a must for science and engineering students, regardless of their major, considering careers in the space industry, rocketry, and government space research and development centers.

  • Instructor: Professor Mike Gruntman

  • On-campus full-time students attend lectures of ASTE 470 that are simultaneously webcast and available through the USC Distance Education Network (DEN). Please see the process description in an article in Acta Astronautica, 2014. DEN classes are taken by students pursuing graduate degrees (especially Master of Science) anywhere in the United States. Usually, students from several states of the United States enrolled each year in ASTE 470.

  • Many our students work full time in major space companies and space government research and development centers (The Aerospace Corporation, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, UT, Space and Missiles Systems Center, etc.), in small companies, or are on active duty in the armed forces. There is growing enrollment into the astronautical engineering program of students not affiliated with major companies (on an individual basis).

  • More information on the history, focus, and organization of the USC Astronautics program

  • For more information on ASTE–520, other astronautics-related courses, USC graduate and undergraduate programs in Astronautical Engineering, and on DEN and contact information, please consult MS ASTE Frequently asked questions

ASTE 470 Spacecraft Propulsion -- Course Outline

(see also a recent first organizational lecture of the course for details)

  • Organization of the class.

  • Rocket history.

  • Solar system and space environment.

  • Elements of orbital mechanics.

  • Basics of rocket dynamics.

  • Elements of thermodynamics and combustion.

  • Nozzle flow.

  • Non-ideal flow.

  • Ideal rocket and real nozzles.

  • Rocket heat transfer.

  • Electric power subsystem.

  • Liquid rocket systems.

  • Solid rockets.

  • Hybrid rockets.

  • Space launch systems.

  • Advanced (non-chemical) propulsion.

  • Interstellar flight.

Only for students enrolled in Mike's ASTE 520

Class Notes (600+ pages) are essential and mandatory for the course.
The notes are available for download at DEN's web site of ASTE-470 in the beginning of the semester.

Alsways start with reading the "readme.pdf" file for the instructions.

The full set of homework assignments will also be available in the beginning of the semester (at the latest, by the end of the first month of the semester).

To access the class web site at DEN, all students enrolled in the class (including all on-campus students) must register with DEN.

Note that the course notes are protected with a password that can be obtained only from the instructor (see Section 00, Part 2).

Required and recommended textbooks

(The course notes are required.)

For students with astronautical, aerospace, and mechanical engineering background
(who had taken some prior coursework in thermodynamics and fluids)
all listed below textbooks are RECOMMENDED.

For students with other science and engineering backgrounds, the textbook
by Hill and Peterson is REQUIRED, while two other books are recommended.

P. Hill and C. Peterson, Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion, Prentice Hall, 1991;
ISBN 9780201146592 .

R.W. Humble, G.N. Henry, and W.L. Larson, eds., Space Propulsion Analysis and Design, McGraw-Hill, 1995 (and later editions);
ISBN 9780077230296 .

G.P. Sutton and O. Biblarz, Rocket Propulsion Elements, Wiley, 2010 (and other editions);
ISBN 9780470080245 .

Many other textbooks and monographs -- recommended by the instructor -- on
various aspects of astronautics, space technology, and space systems are listed at

There are 22–26 homework assignments.
Late homework (up to 2 weeks) is graded with grades reduced by a 50% factor.

Grading policy for ASTE 470 (subject to change)

Midterm exam = 40%
Final exam = 40%
Homework = 20%