Launch Vehicle/Payload Integration





This unique three-day course offers an end-to-end, in-depth explanation of the launch vehicle to spacecraft payload mission and system integration as well as management and engineering processes. The course encompasses a blend of technical and management topics in addition to discussions of required processes, management responsibilities, contracts forms, legal aspect and launch site operations. Class materials are focused on the spacecraft/payload provider perspective and discussions include both domestic and foreign launch systems. Attendees are be exposed to a significant level of technical details including physical interfaces, analysis products, testing methods, data content, required deliverables and fairing systems. Course materials include descriptions and explanations of contracts, acquisition of launch services, system integration processes and procedures. The topic of risk management is included and discussed. Discussion include a class exercise focused on the development of a preliminary mission plan from information found in the user guides. Emerging launch vehicles, shared rides, secondary payloads, horizontal vs vertical processing, launch site and launch site operations are also presented and discussed. Finally, the course addresses special topics such as non-standard and special services, unique system integration challenges, a very brief overview of kick motors, upper-stage systems and nuclear-powered missions. Lectures will conclude with a “lessons learned” discussion.



Each attendee will receive a complete set of the course materials.


This course is intended for spacecraft project managers, mission designers, systems and payload engineers, principal investigators, integration engineers and supervisors. The focus is primarily on those who have never managed or experienced significant involvement in launch vehicle/payload integration processes.


  • Attendees will acquire a clear end-to-end understanding of all aspects related to the payload integration with insights into successful approaches for their respective missions and organizations such that mission success is achieved.
  • How to successfully plan for, develop, manage and implement a spacecraft to launch vehicle integration process from the beginning to the conclusion of a successful spacecraft separation event.  
  • How to take a pro-active system engineering approach to the management and implementation of interfaces, deliverables, schedules, meetings and reviews.
  • Knowledge of technical aspects related to launch vehicle interfaces, fairings, separation systems, electrical and other interfaces.
  • Planning methods for the successful management of a launch campaign


  1. Overview of Space Mission Development and Launch Vehicle Acquisition

This section will introduce the attendees to the legal and contract worlds and portray how they intersect with the development of a space mission, and the critically important acquisition of the launch vehicle and related services.  Starting  at the beginning of  the conceptual phase of developing a Space Mission, identifying the “likely” launch vehicle of families of vehicles, and continuing up to the Launch Vehicle acquisition contract award, this session ties these topics together, such that the remaining discussions in the course, proceed with a sufficient knowledge of the  legal/contractual background and obligations required to be satisfied by the technical teams. Announcements of opportunities, directed missions, and launch vehicle acquisition processes (includes acquisition documents and acquisition processes), are explored. Legal aspects are briefly discussed including contract awards and protests, responsibilities for launch delays, liabilities, and insurance policies are presented. The differences in procurement approaches used for commercial, military and civilian space contracts and acquisition processes are discussed. Launch Services, launch vehicle hardware, block buys and sustainment infrastructure contracts are presented. Where spacecraft project development schedules vs. launch vehicle acquisition schedules collide and how to negotiate these speed bumps are explored. Shared rides, secondary payloads and other “rules of the road” for multiple payloads are also briefly explored.

  1. The Mission Planning Guides

The information available in the guides necessary to assist developing preliminary mission plans is discussed. This section in essence provides the attendees technical information AND instructions on how to navigate, manage, interpret and implement the information available in the guides including how to estimate mass to orbit performance, specify launch vehicle configurations and interfaces, etc.

  1. Launch Vehicle Interfaces and System Design Overview

This section provides the attendees a series of detailed discussions introducing the various payload interfaces available and commonly used across the worldwide launch industry.  The course presents a comprehensive and technically rich discussion of payload adaptors, and separating interfaces including frangible joints, separation nuts, clamp-bands, separation springs, T0 purge, electrical umbilical and RF separating interfaces. Fairing pull-separating systems are also introduced. Keep out zones are introduced and accompanied by the critical factors and requirements that support the separation analysis tasks including a brief presentation on tip off rates and relative separation velocities.  The typical fairing designs, materials, fairing separation systems employed on today’s launch vehicle providers are presented. Special mission unique fairing entry doors are explained and a discussion on fairing static and dynamic envelopes, and physical access requirements are presented. The fairing environmental controls, atmospheres, fairing cleanliness and ground processing are also discussed.

  1. Schedules, Budgets, Critical Events and Meetings and Reviews

This section focuses on acquainting the attendees with the usual and expected mission integration meetings, integration schedules and pre-launch critical milestones and events applicable to just about any Space project. The formation of special working groups and other tools that facilitate solutions to complex, multi-organization challenges are presented with several examples provided. How to successfully manage actions and requirements, how to craft and manage integration schedules and tailor reviews for success are presented. Gate products and other standards expected to be applied to achieve successful critical program reviews are discussed. How to manage, organize and run efficient integration meetings is also presented. Risk management is introduced and discussed.

  1. Documents and Deliverables

This section passes briefly thru the various usual Spacecraft and launch vehicle provided data and analysis products applicable to any mission launching on any vehicle. The transfer process, configuration control and content and purpose of various electronic models, Interface Control Documents (ICD’s), Interface Requirements Documents (IRD’s), Launch Site Support Plans and Range safety documents is presented. At the conclusion of this section, the attendees should be able to independently identify critical project need and due dates for all the usual deliverables required by their individual project.

  1. Constructing a Mission Plan (optional in-class exercise)

A brief in class exercise focused on “developing a preliminary mission plan” is conducted. The class will be challenged with this in class exercise, designed to craft an end-to-end mission plan, after being provided a candidate set of SC technical and mission requirements, and provided several launch vehicle mission planners guides from which to work from. The mission plan crafted will require the selection of a particular launch vehicle configuration, selections for the fairing and identify the launch site selected. Included in the exercise will be the specification and identification of the preferred physical interfaces, including a draft acquisition and mission integration schedule with key deliverables identified.

  1. The Launch Campaign

This session delves into the launch campaign and is applicable to almost any launch site in the world. Starting at payload arrival, early payload and launch vehicle integration activities, tests and verifications are covered.  The payload processing facility interactions and requirements are discussed. The launch vehicle ground processing and coordination tasks, roles and responsibilities, actions, timelines, etc. are all covered. The integration flow, preparing for the spacecraft mate operation, and consolidated payload and launch vehicle testing, critical pad activities, final preparations for launch, launch and post launch activities are discussed.

  1. Brief Presentations and Discussions on Special Topics
    1. Payload provided kick motors and upper stage systems are briefly presented. Safe and arm (S&A) systems, Flight termination systems (FTS), integrated trajectory and performance, safety and mission assurance challenges, spinning and thrust-vector controlled stages, etc. are all presented as an educational and familiarization session.
    2. Nuclear Powered Missions present the attendees a very brief and general overview designed to introduce the nuclear-powered spacecraft systems (RTG’s, MMRTG’s, RHU’s, ASRG’s) typically employed for inter-planetary and other specialized missions. The nuclear power source physical integration flow, crew certification, pathfinders, security and other aspects of nuclear missions are covered.  An overview of the nuclear launch approval process including the data books, launch vehicle certification, environmental impact statement, etc.
    3. Lessons Learned and “Near Misses” is the final and concluding session of the course which brings many lessons learned, as viewed from the Spacecraft payload perspective forward. Contributing factors and mitigations for future missions accompany the lessons learned.
  2. Wrap Up Session

Closing remarks and a final question and answer session will then occur in the wrap up session at the end of the final day. The parting shot requested by the instructor, is for the class to fill out an optional and anonymous survey of the individual’s satisfaction level with the course accompanied by an appeal for suggested improvements The survey  will also probe the attendees to provide their rationale for selecting this class, and rating it and also be accompanied by a  solicitation for any remarks or suggested improvement’s to improve the class for future offerings. The responses requested are optional in nature and can be responded to via an anonymous manner of desired.


Steven R. Vernon has over 30 years of experience focusing on launch vehicle payload integration, spacecraft mechanical systems engineering, mechanisms design, and assembly and test operations. He has led and managed Spacecraft payload to launch vehicle system integration efforts and launch campaigns on nuclear and conventional powered spacecraft, civilian and military space sponsors. Mr. Vernon has also led the integration efforts for several first fight upper stage systems integrated into the Atlas and Delta IV Heavy launch vehicles and is also a private commercial industry consultant for several new, emerging launch vehicle companies. Mr. Vernon holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and is the author or co-author of over 35 formal publications covering spacecraft system engineering, launch vehicle payload systems integration, spacecraft mechanical systems, space mechanisms and spacecraft structures and advanced mission concepts. He is the recipient of several NASA and DOD group achievement awards and NASA civilian contractor awards. His most recent accomplishments include lead system engineering and management roles carried out on the Europa Lander Project, Van Allen Probes, Pluto/New Horizons mission and the recently launched Parker Solar Probe Mission. He currently is the launch system integration lead assigned to an asteroid rendezvous mission and the interstellar probe mission.



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