ECE 3104 Introduction to Space Systems and Technologies | ECE | Virginia Tech

Undergraduate PROGRAMS

Course Information


Introduction to technologies and computational tools used in space-based applications, including techniques for exploring the planets and the near-Earth geospace environment. Overview of orbits, spacecraft, control of spacecraft, electromechanical system requirements for space-based applications, and space environment interactions with spacecraft systems. Understanding the space environment and the engineering approaches required to operate in it.

Why take this course?

This course introduces students to the various technologies used in space applications and the special considerations required when designing systems for operation in space. Students learn the particle and field environments in low-Earth orbit and the spacecraft-based environmental monitoring tools used to study that environment. Students will learn about appropriate design approaches to address unique issues that occur in the space environment. These concepts inform and are relevant to topics as GPS, satellite communications, and remote and in-situ sensing. These topics are not covered by any other course offered in the university.


A C- or better required in prerequisite. Pre: 2204, 3105.

This 3000 level course requires a familiarity with the basic theory of circuits including semiconductors and electromagnetics, normally taken by the fifth semester. The course provides material needed in 4000 level system design courses.

Major Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Describe the various approaches and technologies used in space exploration, remote sensing, in-situ measurements in the space environment, and satellite-based communications.
  • Use state-of-the-art environmental models to characterize and predict environmental conditions encountered in the space environment.
  • Analyze the performance of systems in space-based applications with appropriate consideration of the requirements imposed by the space environment (e.g., radiation, zero-G).
  • Evaluate space environment effects on spacecraft subsystems (e.g., spacecraft charging, wake effects, and thermal fluctuations).

Course Topics


Percentage of Course

Classifications of sounding rockets, launch vehicles, and satellites 10%
STK Analysis of orbits, ground contacts, satellite drag, etc. 10%
Exploration of the planets and geospace environment 15%
Instrumentation used in space based applications (e.g. Langmuir probes, E-field double probes, RPAs; Drift meters; Instruments based on ion optics; Mass spectrometry, Photometers; Radiometers and Spectrographs; Magnetometers; Accelerometers) 20%
Attitude determination and control systems 5%
Radiation environment & mitigation practices 10%
Space environment models (IRI, MSIS, SAMI, TIME-GCM) 20%
Spacecraft charging 5%
Systems engineering for space applications 5%