Launch Vehicle Design, Selection, Performance, & Use

Course length:

3 Days



Course dates

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This three-day course provides the practical knowledge to understand the design, performance, selection, economics, and use of current and future (within 5 years) launch systems. The course benefits designers, technologists, manufacturers, spacecraft operators, administrators, entrepreneurs, and investors in current and future launch vehicles. The operational American launch vehicles of today include the Antares, Atlas 5, Delta 4, Falcon 9/Heavy, and Minotaur, with many new launch vehicles poised to go into service in the next few years. Foreign launch vehicles, including Ariane 5, H-2A, Long March, Soyuz, and Vega will also be discussed for comparison in terms of performance, availability, reliability, and cost, along with an assessment of how launch sites affect launch vehicle operations. Future trends in launch vehicles, including micro-sat launchers, manned interplanetary ships, and reusable launch vehicles, will be examined for their cost, performance, reliability, and technology requirements. The relevant characteristics of major launch systems and their suitability for various space missions will be presented.

The course is taught from a multi-disciplinary point-of-view, pertaining to design, development, selection, and operation of a launch vehicle with consideration to cost, reliability, availability, and new technology implementation. The affect of government contracting, regulations, incentives, insurance, and accessible launch sites will also be discussed. Attendees will receive a set of printed notes and a DVD. These notes serve as an excellent future reference after the course.

What You Will Learn:

  • Basics of rocket propulsion, structures, controls, staging, environments, and maneuvering.
  • Characteristics of current and proposed vehicle performance, cost, reliability, and availability.
  • Case studies, trends, and the technologies used on modern launch vehicles.
  • Evaluation of past, present, and future launch vehicles and government/business ventures.
  • Understanding launch vehicles as part of a broader launch system with mission requirements.

Course Outline:

  1. Fundamentals of Rockets and Launch Vehicles. Historical background and physical principles of rocket-propelled vehicles. Performance parameters, mass properties, and staging effects.
  2. Solid, Liquid and Hybrid Rocket Choices. The technical and practical aspects of various rocket propulsion alternatives, and how they are interact with other launch vehicle systems. Solid rockets may be the best choice in some vehicles, while storable liquid, cryogenic liquid, hybrid rockets, or non-chemical propulsion systems may be the best choice in others.
  3. Performance Analysis and Staging– The use of performance modeling and loss factors are defined. Staging theory for multi-stage rockets are explained.
  4. Mass Properties and Propellant Selection– The relative importance of specific impulse, density, temperature, storability, ignition properties, stability, toxicity, material compatibility, and ullage are explained. Monopropellant and cold gas propellants are introduced.
  5. Introduction to Solid Rocket Motors– The historical and technological aspects of Solid Rocket Motors is explored. Solid rocket materials, propellants, thrust-profiles, construction, cost advantages and special applications are explained.
  6. Fundamentals of Hybrid Rockets– The characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of solid-liquid hybrid rocket systems are discussed.
  7. Liquid Rocket Engines– Pressure and pump-fed liquid rocket engines are explained, including injectors, cooling, chamber construction, pump cycles, and ignition systems.
  8. Thrust Vector Control– Thrust Vector Control system types, characteristics, and practical considerations for keeping a rocket vehicle on a desired trajectory are explained.
  9. Liquid Rocket Stage– All aspects of the liquid rocket stages, including propellant tank systems, pressurization, cryogenics, control systems, separation mechanisms and other structures.
  10. Launch Vehicle Systems & Environments.Extreme temperature, pressure, and loading environments which launch vehicle systems must withstand. The impact of vibration, shock, acoustics, acceleration, dynamic pressure, and others on both the launch vehicle and payload.
  11. Aerodynamics and Winds– The effect of winds, atmospheric density, and flight velocity on lift, drag, and dynamic pressure is explained. Rocket shape, stability and venting are discussed.
  12. Performance Requirements for Useful Orbits & Trajectories– A simplified presentation of ascent trajectories and orbital mechanics as they pertain to launch vehicle performance and launch site location. Maneuvers required to change orbital parameters.
  13. Mission Safety, Reliability, and Risk Considerations.Drivers for higher standards of safety and reliability. Reliability risks of launch vehicles having limited track records. Strategies to mitigate risks to people, property, and the environment.
  14. Elements of Current Launch Systems. Mission planning, launch operations, range operations, flight vehicle components, vehicle manufacturing, and vehicle/payload integration. Domestic and foreign launch systems, price estimations, payload capability & volume, orbital capabilities, risk factors, and availability.
  15. Modern Expendable Launch Vehicles– Good expendable launch vehicle design characteristics are identified, with examples of alternative design features.
  16. Rockets in Spacecraft Propulsion– The differences between systems on spacecraft, satellites and transfer stages, operating in microgravity, are examined.
  17. Launch Sites and Operations– The role and purpose of launch sites, and the choices available for a launch operations infrastructure, is explored.
  18. Launch Vehicle Systems of the Future.New launch systems that are currently under development, what they promise, and how they might provide improvements.
  19. Evaluating Alternative Launch System Concepts.How to evaluate alternative launch vehicles for various mission. How to evaluate future launch vehicle concepts from the business and technical perspective. Evaluating the differences between expendable and reusable launch vehicles, and other alternatives.
  20. High Technology in Launch Vehicles.The role of various advanced technologies, such as high-performance materials and miniaturized electronics, in launch vehicles. Case studies of how advanced technologies have succeeded in some launch vehicles, and why technologies have sometimes been misapplied, leading to poor outcomes in others. Future promising launch vehicle technologies will also be discussed.
  21. Launch Vehicle Design Strategies and the Future of Launch Vehicles.– Design strategies and potential evolution of a launch vehicle design concept into a family of variants. Case studies of Soyuz, Delta, Falcon, and others illustrate which strategies have been successful, and how bad assumptions have led to problems in others. How strategies for expendable and reusable launch vehicles may differ. Identifying root causes of various types of payload delivery failures.


  • Edward L. Keith is a multi-discipline Launch Vehicle System Engineer, specializing in the combination of launch vehicle technology with economics of business case analysis. His travels have taken him to Russia, China, Australia and many other launch operation centers around the world. He is currently working on advanced launch vehicles for Boeing Corp. Mr. Keith has served 5 years on launch operations at Vandenberg AFB, CA. He also served 5 years in Australia, evaluating all space mission operations that originated in the Eastern Hemisphere.

    Mr. Keith demonstrated all the key technology for a small company to develop expendable launch vehicles at more than 10-fold lower recurring and development costs. Mr. Keith has worked on launch vehicle technology projects from large liquid cryogenic rocket systems, to solid rocket motors and small storable propellant propulsion systems. Mr. Keith also conducts business case analyses of space and launch vehicle systems, using commercial criteria for closed business solutions.




    Daniel J. Moser, Founder, President and Chief Technical Officer of an engineering consultant firm has a B.S. in Physics, and M.E. in Mechanical Engineering, University of Utah. Mr. Moser has been an engineer, innovator, and entrepreneur in the aerospace industry for over 35 years. Previously employed by Beal Aerospace Technologies (Director of Engineering), Raytheon-Electronic Systems (Chief Composites Engineer), ALCOA-FiberTek (Project Engineer), and EDO-Fiber Science (Project/Test Engineer), he has also founded and operated two composites-based businesses: Utah Rocketry (1993-1997), and Compositex, Inc. (2000-present). He has extensive experience in designing and developing launch vehicles, liquid rocket propulsion systems, ablatively-cooled thrust chambers/nozzles, filament-wound composite vessels (liquid propellant tanks, high-pressure gas storage vessels, solid rocket motorcases, and crash-worthy external aircraft fuel tanks), wings, control surfaces, fuselages, radomes, spars, missile tail fins, bulkheads, reentry heat shields, and landing gear. Compositex, Inc. customers include NASA-Marshall, NASA-Ames, NASA-Johnson, Air Force Research Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University-Applied Physics Laboratory, Air Launch LLC, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, KT Engineering, Rocketdyne, DARPA, Exxon-Mobil, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin.

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