Research in Engineering and Aviation

Spacecraft Integration and Test: An Undergraduate course in Systems Engineering Practice

June 2012

Author(s):  M. Swartwout, S. Jayaram

“Spacecraft Integration and Test: An Undergraduate course in Systems Engineering Practice”, ASEE Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX, June 2012.


The teaching of good systems engineering practice to undergraduates requires that students gain experience with real, complex systems. We have created a candidate course that blends the theoretical principles of spacecraft integration & test with the practical constraints of preparing a small student-built spacecraft for launch. We introduce four heuristics of spacecraft I&T that explain why certain processes are used in major environmental and functional testing, and also justify the development of massive systems for documentation. In parallel with the theoretical work, students are responsible for designing, conducting and analyzing spacecraft acceptance tests for a small satellite, and preparing the test reports for evaluation by NASA. NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatelllites (ELaNa) program appears to be an ideal platform for improving space systems education. As will be discussed in the paper, this approach had benefits associated with real-world experience and student motivation, but also brought significant drawbacks when the launch schedule slipped by nine months.