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


    07dec(dec 7)8:00 am11(dec 11)5:00 pmFeaturedBIO 103 Microgravity Research CampaignMicrogravity Research Campaign supporting the IIAS BIO 103 Program


    15jan(jan 15)6:30 pm20(jan 20)5:00 pmPoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Class 2001 and 2002

    18jan(jan 18)8:00 am22(jan 22)5:00 pm2020 PoSSUM Academy - Red Sprite Group

    22jan(jan 22)6:30 pm27(jan 27)5:00 pmPoSSUM Scientist-Astronaut Class 2003

    25jan(jan 25)8:00 am29(jan 29)5:00 pm2020 PoSSUM Academy - Blue Jet Group

    30jan(jan 30)8:00 am03feb(feb 3)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


    04feb(feb 4)8:00 am08(feb 8)5:00 pmFeaturedBIO 104: Advanced Egress - Spacesuit Landing and Post-Landing Testing


    24apr(apr 24)8:00 am27(apr 27)3:00 pmEVA 103 Planetary Field Geology Field CampaignEVA 103 course covers the requirements and design considerations for EVA systems and tools for conducting planetary field geology

    28apr(apr 28)8:00 am02may(may 2)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


    03may(may 3)8:00 am07(may 7)5:00 pmFeaturedEVA 104 Gravity-Offset EVA Space Suit Evaluation CampaignGravity-offset research campaign to evaluate the Final Frontier Design EVA space suit by applying the tools and techniques developed through EVA 102 and EVA 103 courses

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