The Space Environment

Module code: PA3603

This module will build on your knowledge in speciality physics by further exploring topics in spacecraft dynamics and space science.Spacecraft orbiting the Earth pass through a number of regions of the magnetosphere, and have provided a wealth of information on the plasma physics processes occurring there. Here we will investigate the theory of orbits, and the specification of orbits and spacecraft position, as well as launch phase, launch vehicles, and orbital manoeuvres. Considerations of orbital perturbations, and interplanetary missions will be included.

This module covers the physics that governs the relationships between the solar wind, and the magnetospheres and ionospheres of the Earth and other planets, initially, a phenomenological description of a magnetosphere and ionosphere will be given. We will then outline the physical mechanisms of the formation of a magnetosphere and ionosphere and the interactions between the solar wind, magnetosphere and ionosphere. By discussing the expected dynamics which occur in the magnetosphere and ionosphere of the Earth and other planets, we will consider the observations that confirm these predictions.

Topics covered

  • The theory of orbits
  • Orbital specification, manoeuvres and perturbations
  • Calculation and design of orbits for exploration missions
  • The interplanetary medium and its variability
  • Planetary magnetospheres and ionospheres
  • Coupling between various space plasma environments
  • The effect of those environments on spacecraft 

Learning

  • 30 hours of lectures
  • 2 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 118 hours of guided independent study

Assessment

  • Coursework (30%)
  • Exam, 2 hours (70%)