Basics of Interplanetary Flight

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ArtCenter College of Design Public Programs

Voyager line drawing

Please join us for the 2019 summer session.

Registration opens
April 2019

Explore how interplanetary exploration works, right up close.


Participants come from all walks of life.
What about the math? See below.

Here's a link to the school calendar.

  • Seven consecutive Thursdays 7-10 pm
  • Twelve participants total (age 18 min)
        Okay, maybe one or two more...
  • Syllabus
  • Map to South Campus
  • About the instructor
  • Questions? Please email Dave

If you've seen giant Jupiter in a small telescope or have seen images, you know the belts and the zones between them. This 40-second video shows recent findings about how deep they go, from the ongoing Juno Jupiter-orbiting spacecraft mission. After our first meeting or two this summer session, you'll understand how such measurements are made.

Jupiter is quite the place. One of its large moons, Europa, which is about the size of our own Moon, is found to have a warm saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust, and just maayybe a geyser. Over our seven weeks together, we'll of course dissect the designs for a spacecrafcraft mission that's going there to investigate Europa right up close. And we'll explore how we know all about an ocean and geysers on Saturn's little moon Enceladus. And... and...

Chopshop posters
Thanks to Thomas Romer and Chopshop for kindly allowing us
to use these posters to help advertise the seminar!        

Please spread the word among friends and family who are interested in planetary exploration!

Registration opens
April 2019

(Other times, you'll see a note that the spring and fall sessions are cancelled; that's because it's only offered during the summer terms. The course is only visible after registration opens for the summer.)

  • Find the course on this page. Do a Keyword Search for  INTERPLANETARY.
  • To register online, see the "Register" menu at the top of the calendar, scroll to Summer Session.
    Or download and fill out this PDF Registration Form.
  • First class meeting is in May 2019
  • Late Registration Fee applies on and after: TBD.
  • Scholarship Deadline is in May 2019.
  • For registering in person: South Campus, 950 S. Raymond Ave., Office hours are posted here. Office phone 626.396.2319, fax 626.396.4219. Here's the PDF Registration Form.

Tuition and Discounts:

  • Tuition is $350 (or as updated in the ArtCenter Catalog)
  • Substantial discounts are offered to teachers, seniors, ACCD grads, and others;
    visit this page for information.
  • ArtCenter kindly offers members of The Planetary Society a 25% discount. When registering in person, bring evidence of TPS membership (address imprint on The Planetary Report suffices). Fill out and bring a PDF Registration Form.

Texts for the course

By course instructor Dave Doody:

  • JPL's free online Basics of Space Flight Tutorial
  • Optional book (Springer-Praxis 2009, hardcover or paperback) written with participants of this course in mind. This textbook is part of Springer's Astronautical Engineering series, so it doesn't avoid the math. It has a full-color cover, and is printed on acid-free paper: in other words, it's expensive. But it's well worth it!
  • Optional paperback book, Basics of Space Flight created from the contents of the JPL Basics website. Available in a full color edition, and a low-cost black & white edition. This book does not cover as much technical detail as the above title. It does contain good reference material, and should serve well in class. This book is produced by Amazon Print-on-Demand, and is much less expensive than the above. The entire book is also available as a PDF, free of charge, for use on some portable devices. If you'd like to download the 20 MB file, go to the JPL Basics website; you'll see the "Download" icon in the lower left corner.

Instructor's notes:

  • You don't have to know the first thing about space flight to participate fully in this class. All you have to be is curious about how humans are exploring the universe today, and what is being found.   
  • If you have a web-enabled phone or other device, bring it along, it will come in handy. There's wireless internet access in the classroom, of course.

  • Is there a lot of Math? Many people are looking for in-depth mathematical treatment. Most, though, say they'd rather not have a lot of math. In our classroom sessions, you probably won't notice much math at all. But you'll find you can go as far as you want in the optional book Deep Space Craft (Springer, 2009), which I wrote for participants who want to follow its more technical content and references. So far now, this has worked out to be an effective balance.

    — Dave

Comments from previous course participants

  • "One of the best courses I have taken in my past eight years of college courses."
  • "This class offers a unique and unparalleled opportunity to explore and learn about a very exciting field of study that offers much to draw upon."
  • "The many ingenious demonstrations of abstract concepts was a treasure trove."
  • "This class really does two things: teaches the concepts, but also is a survey of how to communicate difficult material of any field."
  • "I was having too much fun for the course to end."

We live on a rare and fragile life-sustaining planet, the companion of an average star orbiting a spiral galaxy's central black hole. After a history rooted in deep time, we have just acquired new senses, many if not most of them originally developed for space exploration. How do these new senses work? What are they telling us? How are we affected by the ability to see and hear and "smell" in radio "light"? The infra-red? Ultra-violet? Gamma radiation?

Lately we are encountering new worlds with our new senses. And we humans are in the extraordinary position today to be seeing some of these places up close for the first time ever, via humanity's robot emissaries. How do you design a robot spacecraft and travel among the planets? How do you fly it and tell it what to do? What information is it sending back?

If you find these topics compelling, please join us for seven consecutive Thursday evenings at the inspiring ArtCenter College of Design South Campus at Raymond & Glenarm in Pasadena. And if you can't make it yourself, please considering spreading word to someone who might be interested.

About the course

The course is an interactive, high-fidelity survey of disciplines and projects in today's interplanetary flight. It involves the participants in a variety of techniques, including visuals, design-based learning, hands-on physics, brainstorming, lecture, demonstrations, guest speakers, and lots more. No credit means no tests, no mandatory assignments, only a 3-hour-per-week time commitment: 7-10 p.m. Thursdays.

We generally divide each of our three-hour meetings into developing three lines of inquiry:

  1. Grasping each of the major factors in the whole environment in which we live and in which we operate interplanetary robots (this environment can be concisely described as the space among the many companions of a dwarf star in a bubble, orbiting a supermassive black hole at the center of one of many galaxies); Understanding how such a description is obtained and interpreted.
  2. Learning how spacecraft are put together, what all their components do, how they move and work, the paths they follow, and why;
  3. Surveying the results; seeing and experiencing new worlds while they are being encountered. (These results are placed in proper context with #1 and #2 above.)
Here's Dave talking about the course with Mat Kaplan on Planetary Radio.

About the Instructor

ArtCenter College of Design South Campus




Our building and its parking lot form the NE corner of Raymond and Glenarm.



The campus is close to the Gold Line Filmore station; ArtCenter College runs a convenient shuttle to the hillside campus and the rail station. Here's more info on transportation.

For 2018 we had Room M3.

(Check back later for 2019 room assignment.)
Messier object M3 star cluster

(In the Messier Catalog, M3 is the name of a star cluster 33.9 thousand light-years away.)

Please be on time each week, as a courtesy to other class participants.