AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment

AER 101: Suborbital Space Environment

AER 101 provides an understanding of the general properties and characteristics of the geospace environment and the underlying physical mechanisms. The student will understand the fundamentals of aeronomy, study of the atomospheric environment of the mesosphere and lower thermosphere (MLT) region of the atmosphere. Special emphasis is given to the to environmental hazards most relevant to the operations of manned spacecraft, including particles and radiation, impact phenomena, spacecraft charging, aerodynamic drag, and oxygen corrosion of surfaces.



    The course provides an overview of the atmospheric and space environment experienced by suborbital spacecraft. It builds an understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere over the stratosphere and mesosphere to the thermosphere and the near-Earth space environment. The course will introduce the relevant aspects of each environment with a focus on dynamics, chemistry, radiation environment and energetic particle environment, and discuss effects on spacecraft where applicable. The course will also discuss measurement techniques for key quantities in the various environments. The course will close with an outlook on space weather and an overview of the atmospheric environment of Mars.

    Course Objectives:

    The course will provide each student with a basic knowledge about the Earth’s atmosphere from the troposphere to the near-Earth space environment. The student with be able to apply basic concepts that describe these environments. The course will introduce the student to simple models of Earth’s atmosphere and allow him or her to apply them to questions concerning the atmospheric environment. It will introduce the student to relevant measurement techniques of atmospheric environments and outline how suborbital measurements contribute to the characterization of these environments. Students will be able to apply this knowledge of environmental effects on spacecraft and measurement design.



    • Sagan C., The Demon-haunted World – Science as a Candle in the Dark, Random house, 1996.
    • Frederick, J. F., Principles of Atmospheric Science, Jones and Bartlett, 2008.
    • Catling, D. C. and Kasting, J. F., Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, Cambridge, 2017.
    • Tascione, T. F., Introduction to the space environment (2nd), Krieger, 2010.
    • Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G., Stark, J., Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th), Wiley, 2011.
    • Haberle, R. M., et al., The Atmosphere and Climate of Mars, Cambridge, 2017.


    Lectures and Assignments:

    This is a 3-credit course that consists of ten webinars in two-hour blocks (1.5 hours of lectures plus time for discussion of assignments) and six assignments. Two assignments will consist of self-study tasks to be summarized in write-ups/presentations, four assignments will based on questions and calculations. Students will receive either a Pass or Fail grade.

    The course will be run via GoToMeeting. Webinars will be held on Fridays from early February to mid-April and tentatively be scheduled at 4:00-6:00 pm PST/PDT (7:00-9:00 pm EST/EDT).

    Webinar 1

    • Introduction to the Scientific Method
    • Introduction to the Earth’s Atmosphere
    • Atmospheric structure
    • Concept of scale height
    • Hydrostatic equation and barometric formula

    Webinar 2

    • Radiative Properties of the Atmosphere – Climate
    • Black body radiation
    • Interactions of light with matter
    • Atmospheric transmission
    • Atmospheric energy balance and greenhouse effect

    Webinar 3

    • Troposphere (1)
    • Atmospheric lapse rate
    • Atmospheric stability and clouds
    • Forces driving wind
    • Impact of weather on spacecraft operations

    Webinar 4

    • Troposphere (2)
    • Tropospheric circulation
    • Synoptic weather systems and fronts
    • Numerical weather prediction
    • Hazardous weather

    Webinar 5

    • Stratosphere
    • Stratospheric dynamics
    • Concept of potential temperature and gravity waves
    • Concept of potential vorticity and planetary waves
    • Stratospheric ozone chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds
    • Impact of air traffic on the stratosphere

    Webinar 6

    • Mesosphere
    • Mesospheric composition and chemistry
    • Mesospheric temperatures and energy balance
    • Mesospheric dynamics, gravity waves and tides
    • Polar mesospheric clouds and polar mesospheric summer echoes

    Webinar 7

    • Upper Atmosphere: Thermosphere
    • Thermospheric energy input
    • Thermospheric composition and chemistry
    • Thermospheric structure
    • Environmental effects on spacecraft

    Webinar 8

    • Upper Atmosphere: Ionosphere
    • Ionospheric layers
    • Impact on radio transmissions
    • Optical effects in the upper atmosphere

    Webinar 9

    • Upper Atmosphere: Exosphere and Near-Earth Space Environment
    • Movement of charged particles
    • Earth’s magnetic field
    • Magnetosphere and Van Allen radiation belts
    • Solar energetic particles and cosmic rays – space weather
    • Exobase and atmospheric escape
    • Environmental effects on spacecraft

    Webinar 10

    • Comparative Planetology: Introduction to Mars’ Atmosphere
    • Mars’ atmospheric structure and composition
    • Seasonal and diurnal temperature cycles
    • Dust and condensates and their radiative effects
    • Entry, descent and landing of spacecraft on Mars

    2021 Course Schedule


    17apr(apr 17)6:30 pm21(apr 21)5:00 pmPoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Class 2001 and 2002

    19apr(apr 19)8:00 am23(apr 23)5:00 pm2020 PoSSUM Academy - Red Sprite Group

    24apr(apr 24)6:30 pm28(apr 28)5:00 pmPoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Class 2003 and 2101

    26apr(apr 26)8:00 am30(apr 30)5:00 pm2020 PoSSUM Academy - Blue Jet Group


    01may8:00 am05(may 5)5:00 pmOPS 102 Spacecraft Egress and Rescue Operations On-SiteOn-site compliment to OPS 102 course providing aircraft egress and sea survial training to complement post-landing human space flight system engineering instruction

    06may(may 6)8:00 am09(may 9)5:00 pmFeaturedBIO 104: Advanced Egress - Spacesuit Landing and Post-Landing Testing

    10may(may 10)8:00 am12(may 12)5:00 pmOPS 104 On-Site Mission Simulation TrainingOn-Site compliment to OPS 104 Orbital Mechanics and Mission Simulation using the IIAS Orion simulator to provide high-fidelity simulation of ISS rendezvous and docking missions.

    13may(may 13)8:00 am16(may 16)5:00 pmEVA 105 Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory EVA Operations CampaignOn-Site compliment to EVA 105 Fundamentals of Underwater EVA Operations using the IIAS Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. This NAUI-certified prepares on to evaluate actual EVA space suits in analog underwater conditions.

    17may(may 17)8:00 am21(may 21)5:00 pmFeaturedBIO 103 Microgravity Research CampaignMicrogravity Research Campaign supporting the IIAS BIO 103 Program

    25may(may 25)8:00 am28(may 28)5:00 pmEVA 102 Operational Space Medicine Field CampaignField component to cover wilderness medicine in extreme environments, culminating with a 4-day on-site lab portion devoted to triage, scenarios and skills pertaining to wilderness medicine

    29may01junEVA 103 Planetary Field Geology Field CampaignEVA 103 course covers the requirements and design considerations for EVA systems and tools for conducting planetary field geology


    06jun(jun 6)8:00 am12(jun 12)5:00 pmFTE 102 Fixed-Wing Performance Flight Test CampaignOn-Site compliment to FTE 102 Fixed-Wing Performance Flight Testing using Turbo Mooney aircraft.

    13jun(jun 13)8:00 am19(jun 19)5:00 pmFTE 103 Fixed-Wing Stability and Control Flight Test CampaignOn-Site compliment to the FTE 102 Fixed-Wing Stability and Control Flight Test Course using Turbo Mooney, Piper Twin, and Pitts S2B aircraft.


    10julAll Day20FeaturedAER 103 Noctilucent Cloud Imagery Field Research CampaignField campaign as part of AER 103, Airborne Noctilucent Cloud Imagery course to study noctilucent cloud formations through coordinated ground, airborne, and balloon observations.

    © 2020 International Institute for Astronautical Sciences