Course Details


Course Summary

This course offers a detailed look at basic expendable launch vehicle design and engineering requirements and capabilities. Primary systems and subsystem are presented and examples are used as case studies. All launch vehicle types are included, with emphasis on highly volatile new launch vehicle issues such as Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, SLS, Ariane 6, Vega and Angara. Discussions include current vehicle design and operational issues such as lower stage engine selection options for Antares, replacement of the Russian RD-180 for the Atlas V launch family and the recovery of Falcon 9 first stages. Launch sites, licensing, ascent design and vehicle selection criteria are all included in the course topics. Course content also includes realistic comparisons of current launch systems, failures, costs and future improvements. In fact, attendees are exposed to current developments throughout the launch vehicle world and given a complete survey of the international inventory of large and small launch systems. Numerous case studies and examples are used to illustrate important aspects for users and designers. Additionally, subjects include an explanation of the rocket equation, classification of vehicle types, payload penalties and general design rules and limitations.

Course Materials

Each attendee receives a soft or hard copy of the presentation materials.

Who Should Attend

Space mission designers and operations managers, satellite and launch vehicle systems engineers, payload systems engineers and integrators. Launch vehicle subsystem engineers, space industry analysts and satellite operators. Aerospace industry and government consultants. Technologists involved in the projecting space applications into the future.

What You Will Learn

Fundamentals of launch vehicle systems design and engineering. Key launch vehicle design rules of thumb and sanity checks. Fundamental performance trade-offs for users and designers. Design impacts of the launch environment, performance requirements and operational constraints. Launch site selection and requirements. How launchers stack up on a cost-per-pound basis. Important launch vehicle subsystems interactions and trade-offs. Launcher trends including new international and commercial vehicles. Basic launch vehicle acquisition and selection criteria.

Course Outline

  1. Elementary Definitions and Principles of Launching Objects into Orbit.
    Basic functions of a launch vehicle. Principles of staging and the rocket equation. Types of missions for launch vehicles. Worldwide survey of operational launch vehicles and their characteristics. Launch sites and resulting limitations on missions.
  2. Fundamental Technologies for Launch Vehicle Design.
    Historical overview. Basic terms and definitions. Introduction to the physics and coordinate systems used in launch vehicle analyses. Analytical techniques and software tools for designers and users.
  3. Launch Vehicle Components and Subsystems.
    The minimum set of elements that makes up a launch vehicle. Survey of subsystems and fundamental interactions. Fundamental trade-off parameters in the design process. Availability of components and subsystems.
  4. Subsystem Technologies in the Design Process.
    Launch loads and events. Structural design and stress analysis. Thermal system design. Determination of aerodynamic properties and heating. Avionics and ascent guidance subsystems. Navigation systems, including inertial and GPS-assisted. Ordnance systems for ignition and flight termination. Range safety requirements and constraints.
  5. Propulsion Subsystems for Launch Vehicles.
    Solid rocket motors versus liquid rocket engines. Off-the-shelf motors and engines. New developments in rocket propulsion and engine selection. Performance parameters and how to use them. Availability of propulsion systems and subsystems.
  6. Ascent Trajectory Design.
    Basic equations of ascent dynamics. Energy losses due to gravitational attraction and aerodynamic drag. Survey of parameters affecting the ascent trajectory, including max-Q and max Q-alpha. Subtleties of launch site selection and ascent design rules.
  7. Launch Environments for the Payload.
    Descriptions of acceleration, shock, acoustic and vibration environments during ascent. Impact of launch environment on the payload and its design. Case studies of launch environments.
  8. User Defined Launch Vehicle Requirements.
    Mission launch needs and objectives that drive the payload envelope, performance, trajectory design and environmental limitations. Allocation of fundamental interfaces between launch vehicle and payload (e.g., guidance, navigation, control, propulsion and telemetry) based on cost, reliability and risk. Launch provider selection criteria and basic contractual documents.
  9. Systems Engineering Practices and Considerations.
    Systems requirements and specifications. Testing philosophy. Assembly and launch site considerations. Impact of range safety requirements. Keys to reducing launch costs. Launch licensing, countdown sequencing, insurance and practical constraints.
  10. Future Satellite Launch Systems.
    Comparison of the new generation of launch vehicles and what they have to offer. In depth review of several vehicles including Atlas V, Ariane 5 & 6, Vega, Antares, SLS, Angara, Long March 5 and others.



Marshall H. Kaplan, Ph.D., is a recognized expert in launch vehicle systems design and engineering. He has participated in a number of new launch vehicle developments and has served as Chief Engineer on both reusable and expendable launch systems. Dr. Kaplan was a member of the National Research Council’s Committee on Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology and Test Program, and has trained organizations that have won launch system contracts for military and commercial applications. He has over 35 years of academic and industrial experience, served as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University, was the executive Director of a Space Research Institute, and has presented launch vehicle courses in the U.S., Europe, South America and Asia. In addition to publishing well over 200 papers, reports and articles on aerospace technologies, he is the author of several books, including the internationally used text, Modern Spacecraft Dynamics and Control. Dr. Kaplan is a member of the AIAA Technical Committee on Space Transportation and a Fellow of the AIAA, and he holds advanced degrees from MIT and Stanford University.