Spacecraft System Design

ASTE 520

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 470 Spacecraft Propulsion

who should take course ASTE 520 Spacecraft Design  aste520 spacecraft 
design information

MS ASTE Program Update

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

atsronautics enrollment statistics ASTE 520 in Fall 2015 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 a recent (Fall 2015) first (introductory) lecture:
ASTE 520 – first lecture.
In 2015–2016 academic year, ASTE520 Spacecraft Design
is offered in the fall 2015 semester (Thursday, 6:40–9:20 pm);
the course is not offered in the spring 2016 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.

ASTE-520 is a popular graduate course.

About 1250 students took the course during the last 12 years from 2003-2014;

nearly 1600 students took the course since 1996.

Instructor: Mike Gruntman

Mike Gruntman's web site on Astronautics and Spacecraft Design

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

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.

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 520

  • ASTE 520 Spacecraft Design is usually taken by astronautical engineering and other science (physics, astronomy, mathematics) and engineering (electrical, mechanical, aerospace, chemical, systems, computer, and other) graduate students and sometimes senior level undergraduate students.

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

  • The course offers a broad introduction to fundamentals of space systems, main spacecraft subsystems, and their interactions.

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

  • This is a very popular class, perhaps the largest graduate class on fundamentals of space systems in the United States. About 1250 graduate students took this class during the last 12 years from 2003-2014.

  • Instructor: Professor Mike Gruntman

  • Prior to 2008, the course was offered once a year; then, in academic years 2008–2013 in both semesters, fall and spring. Beginning with 2013 academic year, I offer the course -- unlimited enrollment -- only in the fall. Always check the class schedule with ASTE Student Advisor.

  • On-campus full-time students attend lectures of ASTE 520 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 10–14 States of the United States enrolled each year in ASTE 520.

  • 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 520 Spacecraft System Design -- Course Outline

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

  • Organization of the class.

  • History of space exploration.

  • Universe. Galaxy. Solar system. Coordinate systems.

  • Space environment. Hardness.

  • Orbit design. Basic orbits, perturbations, delta-V.

  • Space mission geometry; astrodynamics.

  • Spacecraft and mission design overview. Operations, launching facilities. Reliability.

  • Guidance, navigation and control; attitude determination; reaction control system. Global Positioning System.

  • Propulsion. Launch systems.

  • Introduction to communications; antennas, communication link; TT&C; data handling.

  • Electric power subsystem.

  • Thermal control.

  • Structures and mechanisms

Only for students enrolled in Mike's ASTE 520

Class Notes (800+ pages) are essential and mandatory for the course.
The notes are available for download at DEN's web site of ASTE520 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).

Recommended textbooks

textbooks = recommended; course notes = required

The New SMAD Space Mission Engineering: The New SMAD
eds. J. R. Wertz, D.F. Everett, and J.J. Puschell
Microcosm, 2011
ISBN 9781881883159

Space Mission Analysis and Design , ed. W.J. Larson and J.R. Wertz
Kluwer Academic Publishers and Microcosm, 3rd Edition
ISBN 9781881883104 .

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

There are 30–36 homework assignments.
Late homework (up to 2 weeks) is graded with grades reduced by a 50% factor.

Grading policy for ASTE 520 (subject to change)

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

Awarded (annual) Master's degrees in Astronautical Engineering

MS ASTE graduation statistics