UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction


Space Science, Environment and Satellite Missions

Lecturers: Dr S. Matthews, Prof. A. Coates, Mr M. Whyndham

Module: 15 credits

Teaching Term: 1

Department: UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics

This module will give students an appreciation of the history of early spaceflight and examples of early space science satellites. Lectures will lead students to understand different space science fields, and will equip them with basic knowledge of the spacecraft environment, of spacecraft dynamics, rocket propulsion, spacecraft design and the essential spacecraft sub-systems; will inform them about space mission planning and space project management.

Topics covered by the module:

  • Space science and other space applications - Brief history of early spaceflight to 1961. Examples of early space science satellites: Ariel 1, Orbiting Observatories, European programme. Brief outline descriptions of the following space science fields, with major related space science missions and discoveries: solar physics, space plasmas (solar wind and Earth’s magnetosphere), solar system exploration (moons, planets, asteroids and comets), astrophysics from space, Earth observation from space (remote sensing).
  • The spacecraft environment - Earth's atmosphere, equation of hydrostatic equilibrium, measurements of density, atmospheric drag. The ionosphere and solar radiation, the trapped particle zone (radiation belts). The magnetosphere, the Sun and the solar wind.
  • Spacecraft dynamics - Orbits, trajectories and launching. The nature of satellite orbits and elementary orbit theory, perturbations. Rocket propulsion - the rocket equation, propellants and specific impulse, nozzle design, staging.
  • Mission objectives. Design concept and assessment of requirements. Proposal document – scientific justification, technical plan, management plan, cost, PA, interface document.
  • Funding application.
  • Project management - organogramme, work packages, schedule. PERT network, milestones, critical path, progress meetings, expenditure profiles and financial control.
  • Mission planning and operations, science planning, timelining, ground support