Module code: PA3242

The Physics Skills Electives are designed to help you improve your skills and enhance your career options in industry, education, research and/or business.  This skills elective will explore the field of astrodynamics and mission design using NASA’s “General Mission Analysis Tool” (GMAT). Following an introduction to setting up simple orbit scenarios and carrying out basic analysis of the results, you will develop your own models, starting with problems that involve simple but fundamental principles. You will progress to a consideration of elliptical orbits and co-planar manoeuvres, out-of-plane techniques and selected aspects of interplanetary trajectories and techniques, using a problem-based approach in which your knowledge of orbital mechanics is applied to determine key initial parameters, which are then implemented in the model, to demonstrate the required trajectories and orbits.

The second part of the elective is a mission challenge (the goals will be announced at the end of the first phase). By forming small teams and you will attempt to design a GMAT scenario which demonstrates the required behaviour. Mission challenge topics can include problems such as formation flying, orbital rendezvous or orbital insertion around planets or their natural satellites. The mission challenge is assessed by a small panel of academics in a mission presentation session in which all groups demonstrate and discuss their solutions. These presentations are conducted within the GMAT environment allowing more interactive discussions during the Q&A part of the presentation. PowerPoint and similar presentation programmes are forbidden! 

Topics covered

  • Astrodynamics and Celestial Mechanics
  • Use of numerical modelling techniques for astrodynamics & celestial mechanics analysis
  • NASA’s General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT)
  • Problem solving, data analysis, and oral communication
  • Professional development
  • Team working 


  • 20 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 130 hours of guided independent study


  • Coursework (100%)