Course Details


Course Summary

This course offers a detailed look at reusable launch vehicles, how they function, insight into limitations and opportunities for the future. Technology requirements and design challenges are addressed. Special payload accommodations and interfaces are discussed. Material includes a survey of the international inventory of potential contender reusable designs and appropriate rocket engines. Essential systems and subsystems are defined and explained. Case studies addresses design requirements and constraints for a fully reusable vehicle concept. Partially reusable systems are also considered, such as the recoverable Falcon 9 first stage. Proposed recovery and recycling operations are presented. The course includes a discussion of suborbital reusable systems such as Virgin Galactic and other contenders. Discussions include the impact of FAA licensing, spaceport selection criteria and novel applications of commercial and government reusable vehicles. Attendees are exposed to the latest developments throughout the reusable launch vehicle world and given a complete survey of concepts and design developments.

Course Materials

Each attendee receives a copy of the presentation and reference materials.

Who Should Attend

Everyone involved or interested in reusable launch vehicle technologies and programs. In particular, those interested in the future of space access and launch vehicles. Commercial and government launch vehicle customers who are involved in long-term planning. Professionals pursuing careers involved with future launch systems. Space policy makers, space industry analysts and mission designers.

What You Will Learn

Reusable launch vehicle functions, subsystems and systems. Physical limitations on reusable space and suborbital launch vehicles. Fundamental design drivers and technology needs for single- and two-stage reusable systems. Impact on payload users selection processes and criteria. Current developments and trends for the future. Rules of thumb and design tips for reusable vehicles. Spaceport design restrictions and options. Fundamental performance trade-offs for users and designers. How various design concepts stack up on cost and performance bases.

Course Outline

  1. Introduction to Reusable Launch Vehicles and Their Functions.
    Reusable launch vehicle definitions, functions and terminology. Summary of space launch missions for reusable launch systems.
  2. Fundamental Technologies Related to Reusable Launch Systems.
    Basic laws of mechanics and gravity. Fundamentals of low orbital flight and return to the launch site. Propulsion requirements and limitations.
  3. The Rocket Equation.
    Basic rocket and impulse equations used to calculate propellant requirements. Mass ratio limitations for single-stage vehicles. Multistage reusable launch vehicles and their advantages. Performance limitations.
  4. Ascent Trajectory Fundamentals and Design.
    Ascent trajectory options for reusable launcher stages. Reentry dynamics and impact on design and operations. Ascent simulation software examples.
  5. Reusable Launch Vehicle Types and Systems.
    Reusable system types. Vehicle subsystem requirements. Ground requirements.
  6. Reusable Launch Vehicle Technologies.
    Technology requirements for single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicles. Technology requirements for two-stage-to- orbit (TSTO) vehicles. Suborbital systems requirements.
  7. Technology Challenges for Single-Stage-To-Orbit (SSTO) Vehicles.
    NASA’s failed approach via the X-33 and X-34. Toughest identified technology requirements. Recent and developing approaches and technology advancements.
  8. Technology Challenges for Two-Stage-To-Orbit (TSTO) Vehicles.
    Commercial approach to low-cost space access.  Performance advantages. Design case study. Evolutionary approach to technology applications.
  9. Payload Accommodations for Reusable Launch Vehicles.
    Special payload considerations for reusables. Payload interfaces and the interface control document (ICD). Launch operations and standardized interfaces.
  10. Worldwide Survey of Rocket Engines for RLVs.
    Introduction to rocket engine types and flow cycles. Survey of existing and future candidate Rocket Engines.
  11. Launch Sites and Operations.
    Summary of locations. Selection criteria. Summary of operational considerations.
  12. Summary of the Seminar.
    Reusable launch vehicle rules of thumb. Projections for the future.



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 an expendable and on a reusable launch system. 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 on five continents. 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.