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SPST305 - Introduction to Orbital Mechanics

Course Details

Course Code: SPST305 Course ID: 3692 Credit Hours: 3 Level: Undergraduate

Students taking this course compute and calculate satellite orbits, planetary orbits, solar system orbits, and other essential space orbits. Designed for the non-scientist student, this course provides a fundamental understanding of how orbital mechanics works in space. (Prerequisites: MATH111 and SPST200 or SPST300)


Course Schedule

Registration Dates Course Dates Session Weeks
02/24/20 - 07/31/20 08/03/20 - 09/27/20 Summer 2020 Session I 8 Week session

Current Syllabi

Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • CO-1 Describe the laws of planetary motion and gravitation that illustrates the effects that gravity has on two-body mechanics.

  • CO-2 Identify the four different types of orbits and their special characteristics.

  • CO-3 Calculate the orbital components and perturbations for elliptical and circular orbits.

  • CO-4 Determine orbital elements and organize them into two-line element sets given an orbit’s radius and velocity vectors.

  • CO-5 Compute spacecraft maneuvers including transfer orbits and rendezvous.

  • CO-6 Compute the ΔV, escape trajectories, impact requirements, and time-of-flight required for a patched-conic section transfer orbit from Earth to another planet.

Grades for this course will be based upon four grading instruments. You must complete all assigned tasks in order to pass the course.

Forums/Class Participation

25 percent of your course grade is earned through participation with other students in the Forum area of the classroom. Your knowledge of assigned readings will be reflected in your ability to actively participate and discuss key course concepts. Postings will occur every week throughout the course. Your initial response to each forum must be at least 250 words and be well written. In addition, you must comment substantively on two other student postings to receive full credit for the forum.

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments make up 40 percent of your overall course grade. Questions will require you to have previously read the chapter(s) assigned in order to comprehend and correctly respond. Each homework assignment will be posted in the Assignments area of the classroom at the end of the week listed in the Course Outline (below). Be sure to work through the practice problems/sets provided in the book before working on your homework problems!

Space Mission Essay

This short essay provides an analysis of a given reading and represent 10 percent of your overall course grade. Each should be approximately 2 - 3 pages summarizing what the points noted in the assignment details and your supporting argument or rationale. The essays expand on your readings and shows a better understanding of the topics. Details are provided in the Assignments Tab.

Midterm/Final Exams

The Midterm and Final Exams are both open book/open note, non-cumulative exams. The exams are worth a total of 25 percent of your overall course grade and will test your knowledge of the terms and concepts covered during the course. The exams consist of short essay questions. You will have 4 hours to complete each exam.

All assignments in this course are given to you prior to the due date. The “due date” for all assignments is the week in which the assignment is due. For the purposes of this course, a “week” is defined as the time period between Monday–Sunday. The first week begins on the first day of the semester and ends on midnight (your local time) the following Sunday.

During this course, we can maintain contact in several ways. The best will be through the classroom messaging system; next will be email; last will be phone. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind phone calls, however most questions are best answered in writing so that the information can be referred to again in the future.

NameGrade %
Homework Assignments 40.00 %
Week 2 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 3 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 4 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 5 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 6 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 7 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Week 8 Homework Assignment 5.71 %
Forums 25.00 %
Forum 1 3.13 %
Forum 2 3.13 %
Forum 3 3.13 %
Forum 4 3.13 %
Forum 5 3.13 %
Forum 6 3.13 %
Forum 7 3.13 %
Forum 8 3.13 %
Essay 10.00 %
Space Mission Essay (Week 1) 10.00 %
Exams 25.00 %
Midterm 12.50 %
Final 12.50 %

Software Requirements

  • Microsoft Word

A Note to Students using MS Office 2007: To ensure that your assignments can be shared across platforms, please save your documents as a Word 97-2003 document (.doc).

  • Adobe Acrobat Reader

Selected Bibliography

There are numerous online sources to help you in better understanding the objectives outlined in this course. Besides the author’s website (at, other websites that may be of help are listed below:

Book Title:Understanding Space - the VitalSource e-book is provided inside the classroom
Publication Info:VS-McGraw-Hill
Unit Cost:$87.21
Electronic ISBN:1259215202
Electronic Unit Cost:$35.00

Previous Syllabi

Not current for future courses.