edX: Space Mission Design and Operations

Complexity Tutorials
Santa Fe University via Complexity Explorer

Space exploration is truly fascinating. From Sputnik to the Apollo, followed by the assembly and exploitation of the International Space Station and the successful operation of the Hubble Space Telescope and other space observatories, we are uncovering many mysteries of our universe. We also made huge progress learning how to work and be productive in outer space!

This course builds on university level physics and mechanics to introduce and illustrate orbital dynamics as they are applied in the design of space missions. You will learn from the experiences of Claude Nicollier, one of the first ESA astronauts, specifically through his role in the maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope on two occasions.

The course focuses on conceptual understanding of space mechanics, maneuvers, propulsion and control systems used in all spacecraft. You will gain knowledge of the challenges related to the use of the space environment as a scientific and utilitarian platform.


Unit 0 - Introduction to the Course

  • Course objectives
  • Motivation behind space exploration and utilization
  • The space pioneers, and brief history of human space exploration
  • The main space agencies in the world
  • Space utilization and exploration

Unit 1 - Introduction to Space Environment

  • Review of Laws of Mechanics
  • Introduction to the space environment including the transition from the atmosphere to space, microgravity, the electrical and thermal environments, orbital lifetime, space debris and asteroids/comets collision threats

Unit 2 – Introduction to Orbital Mechanics (I and II)

  • Orbital Mechanics I - dynamics of spaceflight; concept of gravitational well; orbital motion; Kepler’s Laws; the case of circular orbits
  • Orbital Mechanics II - elliptical orbits; reference frames; orbital maneuvers; perturbations of orbital motion; peculiar orbits

Unit 3 - Orbital Mechanics Part III

  • Rendezvous in Low Earth Orbit (LEO); relative motion of the chaser vs. the target; the case of the Space Shuttle and ESA’s Automatic Transfer Vehicle (ATV)

Unit 4 - Orbital Mechanics Part IV

  • Interplanetary trajectories; Gravity Assist or Slingshot principle
  • Propulsion in space - law of propulsion; concept of specific impulse; types of thrusters; electric propulsion; ascent into space; and re-entry

Unit 5 - Introduction to Space Systems and Space Tethers

  • Attitude measurement and control; attitude change; electrical power generation and distribution (overview); thermal balance (overview)
  • Space tethers as an alternate method to generate electrical power on orbit; Dynamic applications of Space Tethers, Shuttle-based Tether missions
  • Reliability; systems redundancy; risk management; safety design for space systems; human rating concept

Unit 6 – The Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS)

  • Space Shuttle - concept; design; operations; Challenger and Columbia accidents
  • ISS; Soyuz and Progress; Logistic supply to ISS with ATV, HTV, and commercial vehicles

Unit 7 – Special Subjects on Human Spaceflight, and Future of Space Exploration

  • Extravehicular Activity (EVA) and space suits, space robotics
  • Astronaut training • Commercial space – The suborbital segment
  • Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS)
  • Future of Space Exploration and Conclusion
3 Student
Cost Free Online Course
Pace Self Paced
Subject Astronomy
Provider edX
Language English
Hours 2-4 hours a week
Calendar 8 weeks long

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3 reviews for edX's Space Mission Design and Operations

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9 months ago
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Garry Kabankin completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be hard.
Eight thrilling weeks of study, filled with hours of exciting videos, clear explanations and stories about such an interesting and unique space experience and science! The best MOOC for me.

You will have to use some given physics formulas in tasks.
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2 years ago
Zach dropped this course.
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2 years ago
David Lee Frank dropped this course.
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