2023-2024 / SPAT0035-1

Space exploration


30h Th, 10h Pr

Number of credits

 Master in space sciences (120 ECTS)4 crédits 


Grégor Rauw

Language(s) of instruction

English language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

Spacecraft (satellites or probes) have allowed to achieve considerable progress in many fields of space science including the exploration of the Solar System, geophysics as well as phenomena that occur far away in the distant Universe. This course provides an introduction to various concepts that play a role in modern space missions from the very early stage of the spacecraft design up to the exploitation of the scientific results.

We start with a short non-exhaustive overview of the history of space exploration from the Spoutnik satellite to modern spacecraft. We then review some fundamental concepts of celestial mechanics necessary to understand the differents types of orbits used for different missions. The design of a space mission and the scientific exploitation of its results require a deep knowledge of the spacecraft environment and an accurate calibration of the instruments onboard. A major part of this course is therefore devoted to the study of the various external parameters that impact on the design of the mission. Several examples of past, current and future space missions are presented to illustrate the different steps from their initial design to the exploitation (and interpretation) of the data collected. The course ends with some discussion about the prospectives of space exploitation.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

At the end of this course, the students will be familiar with the specific concepts of scientific space missions. They will be able

  • to understand the design of the spacecraft and the choice of the best instrumentation depending on the mission's objectives and constraints,
  • to analyse the various steps in a space mission, and
  • to assess its scientific return.

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Good knowledge of mathematics, physics, and classical mechanics.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Several tutorial classes are organised including one where the students simulate the design of a space mission with a specific scientific objective. The reports of the students during this session constitute 10% of their final mark.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Blended learning

Additional information:

About 30 hours of lectures followed by several tutorial sessions (10h). The course takes place during the first semester.
Most of the lectures will take place face-to-face (if the sanitary conditions allow so), but some will be delivered as podcasts.

Recommended or required readings

The lecture notes are provided as a pdf file in English. The students are invited to make extensive use of the on-line version of this course. This online course contains the lecture notes, copies of the slide show used during the lectures, links to videos that illustrate some aspects developed in the course, as well as a test (not part of the assessment) that helps the students prepare their exam.

All the documents are made available exclusively for the students of this course for a strictly personal and private use, and shall not be shared with a third party. Furthermore, it is forbidden to submit these documents to an artificial intelligence or to an artificial intelligence-powered language model. This restriction equally holds if the goal of such a submission would be to generate a summary for personal use.


Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

written exam ( multiple-choice questionnaire, open-ended questions )

Additional information:

The assessment is composed for 90% of the evaluation of a written exam, as well as for 10% of the assessment of a tutorial session where the students simulate the design of a space mission. The evaluation emphasizes the understanding of the course and the ability to use the techniques that have been taught. To successfully pass the exam students have to learn and understand the course.
The written exam contains an MCQ test as well as open questions. The open questions part is open book, meaning that the student can use papercopies of the official notes as well as personal notes. The use of electronic devices, tablets or smartphones during the exam is forbidden.

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course



Prof. Gregor Rauw Institut d'Astrophysique et Géophysique, Bât. B5c Allée du 6 Août, 19c 4000 Liège
Tel. +32-(0)4 366 9740 e-mail: g.rauw@uliege.be

Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

On-line course
This link brings you to the on-line version of the course.