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 experience 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. It will familiarize the student with basic concepts that describe these environments. It will introduce the student to relevant measurement techniques 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.

• Catling, D. C. and Kasting, J. F., Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, Cambridge, 2017.
• Fortescue, P., Swinerd, G., Stark, J., Spacecraft Systems Engineering (4th Edition), Wiley, 2011.
• Haberle, R. M., et al., The Atmosphere and Climate of Mars, Cambridge, 2017.

Lectures and Assignments: The course will consist of eight 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.


Webinar 1
Introduction to the Scientific Method, Introduction to the Earth’s Atmosphere, Atmospheric structure and large scale circulations, Concept of scale height and barometric formula

Webinar 2  Troposphere, Planetary boundary layer, Coriolis force, Synoptic weather systems and fronts, Atmospheric stability and clouds, Impact of weather on spacecraft operations.

Webinar 3 Stratosphere, Stratospheric dynamics, Concepts of potential temperature and potential vorticity ,Planetary and gravity waves, Stratospheric ozone chemistry and polar stratospheric clouds

Webinar 4 Radiative Properties of the Atmosphere – Climate, Principles of radiative transfer, Atmospheric transmission and absorption, Feedback mechanisms

Webinar 5 Mesosphere, Mesospheric structure and dynamics, Mesospheric composition and chemistry, Gravity waves and tides, Polar mesospheric clouds

Webinar 6  Upper Atmosphere: Thermosphere and Ionosphere, Thermospheric structure and composition, Energy input – space weather, Ionospheric layers, Airglow and aurora, Environmental effects on spacecraft

Webinar 7  Upper Atmosphere: Exosphere and Near-Earth Space Environment, Exobase and atmospheric escape ,Van Allen radiation belts, Solar energetic particles and cosmic rays – space weather, Environmental effects on spacecraf

Webinar 8 Comparative Planetology: Introduction to Mars’ Atmosphere, Mars’ atmospheric structure and dynamics, Mars’ atmospheric composition, Dust and condensates and their radiative effects, Entry, descent and landing of spacecraft on Mars

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