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Understanding Space

SCI 345 (Not currently offered)

Understanding Space
(Not currently offered)

  • Course ID:SCI 345
  • Semesters:1
  • Department:Physics
  • Teachers:Joe Crnkovich

Description and Objectives

Man’s use of space has advanced over the past 60+ years from the simple Russian Sputnik to SpaceX’s expansive Starlink satellite constellation consisting of thousands of satellites working together to provide global high-speed internet coverage from space.  Understanding Space is an introduction to the exciting topic of man’s use of space, especially as applied to Earth orbiting space vehicles (i.e., satellites).  This course is ideal both for those who like to look skyward and wonder and for those that are interested in a field which is rapidly accelerating as the barriers to space are being reduced with cheaper rocket systems, the maturation and miniaturization of space electronics and sensors, and the the advancement of manufacturing technologies as space enters the era of commercialization.

The goals of this course are to provide an understanding of the motion of objects in space, familiarize the student with key terms and concepts in this field, provide the tools needed to understand how the systems work, and provide an overview of the major segments of fielding a space system and how they work together.   This course is meant to provide a background on what is still a relatively young field of endeavor and stimulate the student’s imagination.  The course will focus on related concepts and is appropriate for a wide range of students interested in space whether it be as a technical field of study (e.g., engineering or physics), gaining the understanding needed for investing and managing related technologies, or just curious and wanting to increase his sense of awe and wonder of the natural world. 

The course consists of three main parts: 

  • An overview of astronomy — Students become acquainted with various heavenly bodies and their movement, starting first from the perspective of the Earth and progressing to new models of the universe based on discoveries in the scientific age.
  • A review of physics laws, concepts, and equations — We develop the tools needed to predict performance by examining orders of magnitude, units & measures, various physical laws of kinematics, gravitation, and the rocket equation.  
  • A Look at the major segments of a fielded space system — Students become acquainted with rocket systems, how a satellite operates, and the ground support required to maintain satellite operations.  The course will delve into additional topics of student interest as time permits.


Course resources will be available over the internet and include various on-line textbooks, youtube videos, and other articles.  Computer simulation and visualization tools will augment the lessons.

Course Requirements

Students are expected to know algebra and trigonometry.  

The student’s grade will be determined by: 

  • Tests given to verify student understanding of the material,  
  • A project or report, 
  • Homework,
  • Quizzes, and 
  • Class participation.

(Note, streamed oral tests and quizzes may also be given to students who are not able to be physically present in class.)

Successful Students

Successful students will exhibit two key qualities: professionalism and curiosity.  Students are expected to exercise professionalism that will be expected of them in their career: prompt attendance and on-time completion of assignments, quality work, preparation and mastery of the material, clear communication of problems or help needed, and respect for the others.

Curiosity, along with imagination, is needed to delve into the deeper meaning of the material covered.  The student fully understands the material when he is able to apply it to problems he has not yet seen.  The student who is curious will ponder the material covered, attempt to synthesize a deeper understanding of the material, and will ask questions.  Questions asked will be considered part of the student’s participation grade.

Students should review each night the material covered that day and perform the daily assignment.  Unless otherwise stated, they are welcome to work together on projects and assignments with the following three caveats. First, they must state who else contributed to their effort and what resources were consulted.  Second, they must restate the results in their own words — plagiarism will not be tolerated.  Third, they must recognize that the purpose of the assignments is to help in their understanding, and they are responsible for knowing the material in the assignment. 

Additional Resources

Additional resources will be identified in class.