Teaching and the SSL

The Space Systems Laboratory provides hands-on undergraduate and graduate instruction to MIT students through several courses in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The undergraduate curriculum is based on the Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate (CDIO) paradigm pioneered in the Department. Undergraduate and graduate students frequently participate in SSL projects as part of their coursework.

Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO)

In the 1990s, industry and academic leaders began to discuss the state of engineering education at the undergraduate level and identify desired attributes of engineers. An MIT team, led by then-Aeronautics and Astronautics Department Head Prof. Edward Crawley, conducted an extensive series of focus groups that included faculty, current students, industry leaders, and senior academics from other universities.Their work uncovered a desired set of foundational qualities a graduating engineer should possess-qualities such as design skill, teamwork, leadership, and communications. Specifically, they found a critical need for engineers who could “conceive, design, implement, and operate complex, value-added engineering products, processes and systems in a modern, team-based environment”. This led Crawley and his team to formulate the Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO) approach to undergraduate engineering education. 

In the CDIO paradigm, students participate in a space engineering program where they learn space by doing space. The ”learn by doing” theme centers on student-built, student-managed, faculty-supervised satellite projects. CDIO involves students throughout the space project life cycle, encouraging them to think beyond disciplinary boundaries and to consider project needs in all phases. The aim is to create a highly engaging, real-world engineering experience that reinforces educational goals in a dynamic and hands-on academic setting. CDIO creates dual-impact learning experiences where technical development is coupled with a modern team-based environment that stresses engineering leadership, collaboration, and communication. The MIT Aero/Astro Department pioneered this CDIO methodology and has executed multiple highly successful CDIO courses over the past two decades.

The first CDIO capstone course ever taught was development of the SSL’s Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) prototypes. SPHERES is a free-flying testbed for testing satellite formation flight algorithms in 6 degrees of freedom. Students in this pioneering course designed and built the spacecraft prototypes and tested them on NASA’s KC-135 parabolic flight aircraft (above). During more than a decade and counting of continuous operation, SPHERES has served as a fully operational facility on the International Space Station (ISS), demonstrating that CDIO-derived projects can have an impact at the national level.


SSL-Related CDIO Courses

16.83J Space Systems Engineering

Design of a complete space system, including systems analysis, trajectory analysis, entry dynamics, propulsion and power systems, structural design, avionics, thermal and environmental control, human factors, support systems, and weight and cost estimates. Students participate in teams, each responsible for an integrated vehicle design, providing experience in project organization and interaction between disciplines. Includes several aspects of team communication including three formal presentations, informal progress reports, colleague assessments, and written reports. 
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16.831J Space Systems Development

Students build a space system, focusing on refinement of sub-system designs and fabrication of full-scale prototypes. Sub-systems are integrated into a vehicle and tested. Sub-system performance is verified using methods of experimental inquiry, and is compared with physical models of performance and design goals. Communication skills are honed through written and oral reports. Formal reviews include the Implementation Plan Review and the Acceptance Review. Knowledge of the engineering design process is helpful. 
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16.851 Satellite Engineering

Fundamentals of satellite engineering design, including distributed satellite systems. Studies orbital environment. Analyzes problems of station keeping, attitude control, communications, power generation, structural design, thermal balance, and subsystem integration. Considers trade-offs among weight, efficiency, cost, and reliability. Discusses choice of design parameters, such as size, weight, power levels, temperature limits, frequency, and bandwidth. Examples are taken from current satellite systems. 
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16.89 Space Systems Engineering

Focus on developing space system architectures. Applies subsystem knowledge gained in 16.851 to examine interactions between subsystems in the context of a space system design. Principles and processes of systems engineering including developing space architectures, developing and writing requirements, and concepts of risk are explored and applied to the project. Subject develops, documents, and presents a conceptual design of a space system including a preliminary spacecraft design. 
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