Sample Syllabus

AERSP 309 Astronautics


Brad Sottile


Office Hours: I will check the discussion forum in Canvas at least daily Monday through Friday. You can contact me via email, and you can also schedule a mutually agreeable personal meeting time with me (in person, via video chat, by phone, etc.).

Course Overview

Prerequisites: CMPSC 121, CMPSC 131, CMPSC 200, or CMPSC 201; E MCH 212; MATH 250 or MATH 251. A working knowledge of linear algebra (i.e. MATH 220) would also be beneficial. This course, required for aerospace engineering majors, focuses primarily on the dynamics of spaceflight, including both orbital and attitude (orientation) motion of spacecraft. It relies upon a sound understanding of mechanics, matrix algebra and vector calculus. Assignments include analytical and numerical problems, some of which require computer programming.

What will be expected of you?

This course requires a minimum of 8-12 hours of student activity each week, depending on the speed at which you work. Included in the 8-12 hours each week is time to complete assignments, quizzes, exams, and related activities. Some weeks, you may spend less time than that, so keep this in mind for the tougher weeks (when you will be making up the difference!). You will be glad to know that you do not have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete each practice problem set, assignment, quiz, and exam before the published deadlines. It is important to note that online courses are not necessarily easier than "in person" courses; this is still a 300-level College of Engineering course. You will need to check out the course discussion forums regularly. That is where students and I will share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of logging in to the course website every day to check in on the class. With only occasional exceptions, I will check the discussion forum at least daily Monday through Friday. You can be sure that I will read, but not necessarily respond to, every single message. If I anticipate not logging in for more than a day, I will let you know and I will also clearly state when you can next expect to hear from me.

Course Goals and Outcomes

Students who complete this course will be able to:

  1. use three-dimensional kinematics to describe relative orientations of different coordinate systems and their rates of change, and apply these to problems in aerospace vehicle motion;
  2. apply basic principles of three-dimensional dynamics to solve problems in orbital mechanics, rigid body motion, and satellite attitude dynamics;
  3. apply the rocket equation to estimate propellant masses needed for orbital maneuvers and transfers;
  4. apply principles of radiative heat transfer to estimate the internal temperature of a satellite; and
  5. demonstrate a rudimentary working knowledge of the space environment and its interactions with spacecraft.

Recommended Course Materials

Optional Book: Wiesel, W.E., Space Flight Dynamics, 3rd edition, Aphelion Press, 2010.

  • If you decide to purchase the book, you can find it on Amazon for around $40, and possibly less for a used copy.

An important part of astronautics is the creation and maintenance of software. Therefore, you will write computer code in this course, and I strongly urge you to use MATLAB. If you do not know MATLAB, it is easy to learn. There are some very helpful MATLAB tutorials on the MathWorks Website. I will also post my notes from the CMPSC 200 Programming for Engineers with MATLAB course I teach on Canvas as an additional reference. There are essentially 3 ways you can have access to MATLAB:

  • Purchase a copy. The Student Version is available in a basic form or bundled with several add-ons called Toolboxes. You can either purchase it directly from MathWorks (I recommend the $99 bundle), or you can purchase it through Software @ PSU for $25 per year.
  • Access MATAB (and the toolboxes) via one of the computers in a public Penn State computer lab. This may be convenient if you are located near a Penn State campus.
  • Access MATLAB (and its Toolboxes) via a browser using WebApps. Go to and login using your PSU credentials. You will see several software packages displayed, including MATLAB. You can download the files you create in WebApps using WebFiles (

Assignments and Grading

Practice Problems: Practice problems will be assigned with each lesson week, but will not be collected or graded. It is critical that you work all of the practice problems; this is the only way that you can really learn the material in the course. 

Quizzes (10%): 20 minute (Quizzes 01 through 04, 06, 07, and 11) or 30 minute (Quizzes 05, and 08 through 10) quizzes will be given with each lesson. These will be based mostly on the practice problems, but may include some conceptual questions from lesson material. The lowest quiz score from the semester will be dropped. You will need a calculator for the 30 minute quizzes, and may use a calculator if you find it helpful for the other quizzes.

The research literature has shown that students learn more from discussing their performance in a course with a member of the course faculty as opposed to merely being able to view solutions to evaluative events online. To assist you, therefore, answers to the quizzes will not be made available online, though your scores will be. If you want to review your performance on any of the quizzes, please feel free to reach out to me and we could discuss any of your quizzes by appointment. I am happy to talk you through any missed questions, and to help you to fill in any conceptional gaps in the course material.

Assignments (25%): These will make use of some results from earlier practice problems, as well as new material from course material, and assignments will often include some computer coding. Assignments will have (mostly) weekly deliverables.

Exams (65%): There will be 2 midterm exam each worth 20% of your grade, and a comprehensive final exam worth 25% of your grade. Each exam must be proctored by a proctor acceptable to the course faculty. Proctor guidelines are available on Canvas. You will be permitted to utilize  8.5" by 11" sheets of notes, equations, etc. for each exam; you may handwrite notes onto the sheets, typeset notes onto the sheets, or any combination of the two; and the note sheets may be (but are not required to be) two-sided. One note sheet will be permitted for Midterm #1, two note sheets will be permitted for Midterm #2, and three note sheets will be permitted for the Final Exam. Do not write on these "study sheets" during the exams or you will not be permitted to keep your study sheets at the end of the exam. You will also be permitted to use a calculator with no ability to communicate with the outside world for each exam, but no other software or technology (e.g. MATLAB). All other exam aids are expressly prohibited.

Makeup Quizzes, Assignments, and Exams: Makeups will be given for legitimate reasons only: illness, or personal or family emergency (sleeping late or forgetting to take a quiz are not acceptable reasons). If possible, let me know ahead of time if you will need to take a makeup quiz or test, but in any event, contact me as soon as possible to make the arrangements. Each request for a makeup will receive consideration on case-by-case basis.

Grading Scale: The following are minimum guarantees needed to achieve a given letter grade. In the unlikely event of a curve, a curve would only be applied to the final course grades.

Letter Grade A A- B+ B B- C+ C D   F  
Minimum Score     93     90     87     83     80     77     70     60  


Honors Option

The honors option for this course is only available to students enrolled in the Schreyer Honors College. For more information about what an honors option is, please see the Schreyer Honor College’s Honors Option page. The Schreyer Honors College stipulates that students electing to take an honors option in a particular course should have legitimate and understandable reasons for wanting to use an honors option course to meet their honors requirements. Schreyer Scholars ordinarily choose to honors option courses at the upper-division level (300- and 400-level courses), most often to fulfill major, option, or minor requirements. The Schreyer Honors College counsels Scholars to seek viable alternatives below choosing an honors option course below the 300-level. You are responsible for approaching me to discuss a potential honors option, for completing the assigned honors option work, and for meeting the Schreyer Honors College paperwork filing deadlines. If you are a Schreyer Scholar that wishes to honors option this course, please contact me in advance of the honors option filing deadline to discuss the possibility.

Course Schedule

Any changes to the schedule below would be communicated to you in writing. Please note that all times are listed in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).

Week Topic Tasks
1: 5/14- 5/20 Lesson 1: Describing the Orientation of an Object in 3D
  • Post in the Class Introductions discussion forum
  • Assignment #1 assigned Monday 5/14
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #1
  • Regular Drop deadline is Friday 5/18
  • Regular Add deadline is Saturday 5/19
2: 5/21-5/27 Lesson 2: 3D Rotational Kinematics
  • Assignment #2 assigned Monday 5/21
  • Quiz #1 (opens Monday 5/21, closes Wednesday 5/23 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #1 due Wednesday 5/23 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #2
3: 5/28-6/3 Lesson 3: 3D Rotational Dynamics
  • Memorial Day Holiday (Monday 5/28)
  • Assignment #3 assigned Monday 5/28
  • Quiz #2 (opens *Tuesday* 5/29, closes *Thursday* 5/31 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #2 due *Thursday* 5/31 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #3
Lesson 4: Orbital Mechanics part I
  • Quiz #3 (opens Monday 6/4, closes Wednesday 6/6 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #3 due Wednesday 6/6 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #4
  • Begin reviewing for Midterm #1
5: 6/11-6/17 Lesson 5: Orbital Mechanics, part II
  • Assignment #4 assigned Monday 6/11
  • Quiz #4 (opens Monday 6/11, closes Wednesday 6/13 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #5
  • Midterm #1 available Thursday 6/14 through Saturday 6/16
6: 6/18-6/24 Lesson 6: Orbits in 3D
  • Assignment #5 assigned Monday 6/18
  • Quiz #5 (opens Monday 6/18, closes Wednesday 6/20 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #4 due Wednesday 6/20 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #6
7: 6/25-7/1 Lesson 7: Orbital Transfers and Maneuvers
  • Assignment #6 assigned Monday 6/25
  • Quiz #6 (opens Monday 6/25, closes Wednesday 6/27 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #5 due Wednesday 6/27 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #7
Lesson 8: Changing Orbital Inclination and the Effects of Other Forces
  • Assignment #7 assigned Monday 7/2
  • Independence Day Holiday (Wednesday 7/4)
  • Quiz #7 (opens Monday 7/2, closes *Thursday* 7/5 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #6 due *Thursday* 7/5 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #8
9: 7/9-7/15 Lesson 9: Rigid-Body Dynamics
  • Quiz #8 (opens Monday 7/9, closes Wednesday 7/11 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #7 due Wednesday 7/11 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #9
  • Begin reviewing for Midterm #2
10: 7/16-7/22 Lesson 10: Attitude Dynamics & Control
  • Assignment #8 assigned Monday 7/16
  • Quiz #9 (opens Monday 7/16, closes Wednesday 7/18 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #10
  • Midterm #2 available Thursday 7/19 through Saturday 7/21
  • Late drop deadline is Saturday 7/21
11: 7/23-7/29 Lesson 11: Space Propulsion
  • Assignment #9 assigned Monday 7/23
  • Quiz #10 (opens Monday 7/23, closes Wednesday 7/25 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #8 due Wednesday 7/25 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #11
12: 7/30-8/5 Lesson 12: The Space Environment
  • Quiz #11 (opens Monday 7/30, closes Wednesday 8/1 at 11:59:00 p.m.)
  • Assignment #9 due Wednesday 8/1 at 11:59:00 p.m.
  • Work on Practice Problem Set #12
  • Begin reviewing for the Final Exam
13: 8/6-8/10 Review and Final Exam
  • Final Exam available *Wednesday* 8/8 through *Friday* 8/10


Academic Integrity Statement

What is Academic & Professional Integrity?

Integrity, to a great degree, is a matter of intent. A person of integrity intends to act consistently according to his or her beliefs and values, and such actions constitute ethical behavior. We recognize common values that are critical to the success of our academic community: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. At various times during the semester, we will discuss these values as they pertain both to you and me. We will also talk about how they are related to professional codes of ethics. It is important that you positively assert your commitment to integrity and ethical behavior both within and outside the classroom. On each assessment (assignment, quiz, etc.) in this course, you will be required to write out and attest to the following statement: "I have completed this work with integrity."

What are Penn State's Standards for Academic Integrity?

The University defines academic integrity as the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner. All students should act with personal integrity, respect other students’ dignity, rights and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts; for more information, see University Faculty Senate Policy 49-20. Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated in this course. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students. As articulated by the University Faculty Senate, "[a]cademic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others." (Penn State University Faculty Senate Policy No. 49-20)

What is Penn State's Policy for Handling Violations of Academic Integrity Standards?

Our professional integrity compels us not only to monitor our own behaviors but to protect the integrity of the course by not standing by and letting others cheat and get away with it. I encourage you to intervene with a student you know to be cheating (you can talk to them or talk to me, anonymously or otherwise) and I will always intervene when I become aware of integrity violations. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University’s Office of Student Conduct for possible further disciplinary sanctions; refer to ACUE Policy G-9. More information about this process in the College of Engineering may be found on the College of Engineering website.

Are There Special Academic Integrity Considerations for AERSP 309?

The concept of “the work you submit must be your own” can be thought of as applying to this course. This principle can be vague, so it requires interpretation in the context of AERSP 309. In this course, when you complete practice problems or assignments I encourage you to discuss concepts and ideas with each other, and/or me. Unless I give you permission to do so, you may not share computer code with each other that you write for assignments; this includes posting your code in the Canvas discussion forum(s). Copying computer code from the internet will be considered an academic integrity violation. If you receive help (e.g. from me, a textbook, etc.) document that source of that help in your written work and/or computer code as appropriate. For quizzes or examinations, I encourage you to study together, but you must work alone on quizzes and examinations and without unauthorized exam aids.

Course Policies

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable broadband Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or wireless hotspot.

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD-40 Recording of Classroom Activities and Note-Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete assessments with specific due dates. Many of the assessments are open for multiple days. It is your responsibility to complete your work on time, which may require you to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances, or University-approved activities. If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. The instructor's ability to accommodate you is dependent on the earliest possible notification. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or their spouses with unique circumstances (e.g. upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made. More information on academic accommodations is available below.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University’s educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus . For further information, please visit the SDR website .

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation . If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, SDR will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with me and discuss the accommodations with me as early in the course as possible as I am unable to provide academic accommodations without your accommodations letter. Please note that you must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Mental Health Statement

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional wellbeing. The University offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

  • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at University Park is available (814) 863-0395 (available Monday through Friday 08:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m.)
  • Counseling and Psychological Services is available at the Commonwealth Campuses
  • Penn State Crisis Line: (877) 229-6400 (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • Penn State Crisis Text Line: Text LIONS to 741741 (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

Nondiscrimination Statement

The University is committed to equal access to programs, facilities, admission, and employment for all persons. It is the policy of the University to maintain an environment free of harassment and free of discrimination against any person because of age, race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, creed, service in the uniformed services (as defined in state and federal law), veteran status, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, pregnancy, pregnancy-related conditions, physical or mental disability, gender, perceived gender, gender identity, genetic information, or political ideas. Discriminatory conduct and harassment, as well as sexual misconduct and relationship violence, violates the dignity of individuals, impedes the realization of the University's educational mission, and will not be tolerated. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment can be reported through the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity via the Report Bias webpage .



The Office for Digital Learning in the College of Engineering supports engineers in lifelong learning - the process of acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to remain current in a chosen field. In today's rapidly-changing, knowledge-based economy, engineers must devote the time and effort to learn new skills and technologies in order to add value for their employers and clients and to remain personally marketable.

Office for Digital Learning

College of Engineering

301-A Engineering Unit C

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-7643