Surrey University Stag


Module code: EEEM012

Module Overview

Expected prior learning: None specifically advised.

Module purpose: This is a key module for students interested in becoming space systems engineers, or in working in a related field. It introduces the student to the key principles and techniques of launch vehicles and propulsion. Through a series of lectures, exercises and case studies, the module aims to give an understanding on the fundamentals of Launch Vehicle design and propulsion techniques for spacecraft travel.

Module provider

Computer Science and Electronic Eng

Module Leader


Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

JACs code: H420

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 97

Lecture Hours: 13

Tutorial Hours: 10

Guided Learning: 10

Captured Content: 20

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Indicative content includes the following.


Launch methods

Rocket staging and launch scenarios. Review of launch vehicles and their engines.


Principles of Space Propulsion

Basic fluid equations – conservation laws, thermodynamics and specific heats. Steady 1-D flows in nozzles – entropy and shock fronts. Boundary layers and heat flow.


Performance of Rocket engines

The rocket equation, specific impulse, propulsion system trade-offs. Chemical rocket thrust chambers and nozzles. Solid rocket fundamentals – burn rates, grain size, hazards.

Hybrid engines. Electric propulsion – electrothermal, electrostatic, electromagnetic technologies.


Non standard propulsion

Solar Sails, tethers, nuclear, solar thermal propulsion.


Launch dynamics

Launch vehicles dynamics and gravity turn trajectory. Thrust vector control. Attitude dynamics and stability.



Re-entry dynamics. Ballistic re-entry, skip re-entry, re-entry corridor.


Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Examination OPEN BOOK EXAM (2HR) 100

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy for this module is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate the learning outcomes. The written examination will assess the knowledge and assimilation of terminology, concepts and theory of launch vehicles and spacecraft propulsion systems, as well as the ability to analyse and find solutions to problems concerning the design of such systems.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • 2-hour, open-book written examination.


Formative assessment and feedback

For the module, students will receive formative assessment/feedback in the following ways.

  • During lectures, by question and answer sessions

  • During tutorials/tutorial classes

  • By means of unassessed tutorial problem sheets (with answers/model solutions)


Module aims

  • To develop an understanding of the issues of launching a satellite from the surface of a planet and the principles of spacecraft propulsion.
  • To understand the physical principles of operation of a rocket.
  • To evaluate the performance of different types of propulsion systems and analyse their suitability for different applications.
  • To give the student an introduction to the design and construction of launch vehicles and space propulsion systems.
  • The module also aims to provide opportunities for students to learn about the Surrey Pillars listed below.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Demonstrate a well-developed understanding of the physics of passage through an atmosphere, lift and drag forces, angle of attack with an introduction to re-entry KC M1, M2
002 Understand the principles of operation of a rocket, the reasons for rocket staging and review the latest propulsion technologies. CPT M4, M7
003 Build an understanding of the principles of spacecraft propulsion and fluid dynamics, performance prediction, energy storage, design drivers KCP M3, M6

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

Methods of Teaching/Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to achieve the following aims.

  • Students develop understanding of the principles and techniques involved in the design of launch vehicles and propulsion techniques.

  • Students develop knowledge and understanding of the physical and mathematical principles underpinning the design and engineering of launch vehicles and propulsion systems and to have a grasp of the development and future possibilities of the topic.

  • Students develop the ability to select appropriate technical solutions for launch vehicles and propulsion systems for a variety of space mission scenarios.


Learning and teaching methods include the following.

Weekly captured lecture 

Weekly summary lecture 

Guest lectures to showcase the wider importance of the topics 

Tutorials (guided study of example problems/past examinations) to prepare students for their examination 

Practice lecture 

Guided Learning

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: EEEM012

Other information

  • Sustainability. The module highlights the use of propulsion technologies to enable de-orbiting or transfer to graveyard orbits of satellites at the end of their missions. This is essential to avoid the accrual of space debris and make a sustainable use of space around the Earth.  In addition to this, the module provides an overview on the use of new green propellants.


  • Digital skills. Examples of Matlab codes for the solution of propulsion-related problems (e.g., nozzle simulation) are discussed and analysed during the tutorials of the module. These exercises offer an opportunity to refine coding skills and to learn new numerical methods for the solution of engineering problems. 


  • Employability. The module includes guest lectures delivered by propulsion engineers from industry partners. Guest lectures offer an invaluable opportunity to analyse propulsion design problems from an industry perspective, providing students an overview of the engineering practice they might encounter in their future career.


Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Satellite Communications Engineering MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Space Engineering MSc 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module
Aerospace Engineering MEng 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2024/5 academic year.