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SPST502 - Introduction to Orbital Mechanics

Course Details

Course Code: SPST502 Course ID: 3712 Credit Hours: 3 Level: Graduate

CORE COURSE: What is an orbit? How does a spacecraft fly to the Moon or Mars? What does NORAD use to track all of the satellites currently in orbit around Earth? How does a spacecraft move from one orbit to another? These questions and more are answered in this course. From Kepler and Newton to the modern telecommunications, navigation, and remote sensing spacecraft, knowledge of orbital mechanics is essential for the modern Space Manager to be able to plan future space missions and to converse with orbital analysts that perform the day-to-day calculations determining IT IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED THAT YOU HAVE PREVIOUSLY COMPLETED COLLEGE ALGEBRA BEFORE TAKING THIS COURSE. (Prerequisites: SPST500 and SPST501)


Course Schedule

Registration Dates Course Dates Session Weeks
06/24/19 - 11/29/19 12/02/19 - 01/26/20 Fall 2019 Session D 8 Week session
08/26/19 - 01/31/20 02/03/20 - 03/29/20 Winter 2020 Session I 8 Week session
10/28/19 - 04/03/20 04/06/20 - 05/31/20 Spring 2020 Session B 8 Week session

Current Syllabi

After successfully completing this course, you will be able to:

  • CO-1 Describe the laws of planetary motion and gravitation that illustrate 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 Analyze 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.

Midterm/Final Exams

The Midterm and Final Exams are both open book/open note exams. You will have 24 hours to upload your responses from the time you access the exams. You can access the exams multiple times but will only be allowed to submit your answers once, so make sure you are complete with your exam before submitting it.

The Rich Text Editor in Sakai can be challenging to use at times, especially for equations. In addition to your answers in the exams, try to show as much of your work as possible. To ensure that you get at least partial credit for your answers, I strongly recommend that you send me your work via a message in the classroom. To get full credit for your answers, you MUST show me your work either in the exams themselves or in the worksheets that you send me via a message.

Your exam answers must be submitted by Sunday (11:55 pm, Eastern time zone) of the week in which the exam is due.

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments make up 48 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 beginning of the week listed in the Course Outline (below). Be sure to work through the practice problems provided in the book before working on your homework problems!!!

Your homework assignments must be submitted by Sunday (11:55 pm, Eastern time zone) of the week in which the assignment is due.


12 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. You must make your posts in each forum during the week in which it is due in order to receive full credit for this assignment.

Your initial posts must be 200-400 words in length. Additionally, I expect these posts to be well written and grammatically correct. And, if applicable, I expect you to cite your sources using the Turabian citation style. With the exception of the Week 8 forum, you must also comment on one other student’s posting. As a guideline, your response should be at least 50 words and needs to have substance; simply saying “good point” and/or “I agree” isn’t adequate.

Your forum postings are due by Sunday (11:55 pm, Eastern time zone) of the week in which the forum is due.

The purpose of the forums is for you to engage your fellow students and learn from them. For this to occur, your interactions in the forums need to be timely. Therefore, I will deduct a maximum of 10 points for late posts from your overall score for a forum. Additionally, postings more than one week after the due date for a forum will NOT be accepted (with the exception of approved course extensions).

Re-accomplishment of Work

If you do very poorly on any assignment and want to re-accomplish the work, I will let you do that with the following stipulation: the highest grade you can obtain is 85% for the first resubmission; 80% for the second resubmission; and 75% for the third resubmission.

Due Dates

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 session and ends on 11:55 pm (Eastern time zone) the following Sunday. As a general rule, I will grade an assignment once everyone has submitted it. If you need additional time to complete an assignment, please contact me before the due date so we can discuss your situation and determine an acceptable resolution. If you submit an assignment after the due date without making prior arrangements with me, you will lose points from your final grade for the assignment.

NameGrade %
Forums 12.00 %
Introduction Forum 1.33 %
Week 1 1.33 %
Week 2 1.33 %
Week 3 1.33 %
Week 4 1.33 %
Week 5 1.33 %
Week 6 1.33 %
Week 7 1.33 %
Week 8 1.33 %
Homework Assignments 48.00 %
Homework #1 12.00 %
Homework #2 12.00 %
Homework #3 12.00 %
Homework #4 12.00 %
Midterm Exam 20.00 %
Midterm 20.00 %
Final Exam 20.00 %
Final 20.00 %

Web Sites

There are numerous online sources to help you better understand the objectives outlined in this course. Websites that may be of help are listed below:

Site Name

Web Site URL/Address

Book Title:Understanding Space
Publication Info:McGraw-Hill
Unit Cost:$87.21

Previous Syllabi

Not current for future courses.