The space sector contributes £13.7 billion per annum to the UK economy alone, and space activity across Europe and the world continues to thrive.

There is a continuing need for talented employees with a good understanding of spacecraft systems engineering, coupled with a broad range of technical skills. Evolving constantly since 1987, this course has prepared graduates for highly successful careers in the space sector.


  • Start dateOctober
  • DurationOne year full-time, two-five years part-time (by extended thesis)
  • DeliveryTaught modules 25%, group project 30%, individual research project 45%
  • QualificationMSc
  • Study typeFull-time / Part-time
  • CampusCranfield campus

Who is it for?

Suitable for graduates in engineering, physics or mathematics, this course will prepare you for a career in this exciting field, from earth observation to planetary exploration, launch vehicles to spacecraft operations, and much more.

Why this course?

This master's degree is highly respected around the world, and many of our students obtain employment/research offers in the space sector before the course finishes. We encourage interaction between our students and potential employers at events such as the group design project industry presentation, dedicated interview days, and alumni conferences. In many space companies and agencies within Europe you will find our former graduates, some in very senior positions. Many of them continue to contribute to the course, forming a valuable network of contacts for those entering the industry and this course will equip you with the skills required to join them in a successful career in industry or research.

You will have the opportunity to fly during a Student Experience Flight in our National Flying Laboratory Centre’s (NFLC) light aircraft. This flight experience will complement your MSc studies, focussing on the effects of control, spatial disorientation and the effects of “G” forces. During the flight you will have the opportunity to take control of the aircraft. Each experience is 2 to 3 hours in duration and includes a pre-flight safety briefing outlining the details of the manoeuvres to be flown, a flight of approximately 1 hour, and a post-flight debrief.

This course is also available on a part-time basis for individuals who wish to study whilst remaining in full-time employment. Cranfield University is well located for part-time students from all over the world, and offers a range of support services for off-site students. This enables students from around the world to complete this qualification whilst balancing work/life commitments.

Informed by industry

The course is directed by an Industrial Advisory Panel which includes representatives from Airbus DS, Open Cosmos, Telespazio, Oxford Space Systems, UK Launch Services Ltd and Eumetsat. This panel ensures that the course content equips you with the skills and knowledge required by leading employers.

Course details

The taught programme for the Astronautics and Space Engineering master's is generally delivered from October to September. A range of core modules allows you to gain a firm grounding in space engineering before opting for specialist modules to build your knowledge in a certain area.

Course delivery

Taught modules 25%, group project 30%, individual research project 45%

Group project

This is a space mission design study conducted in teams of 10-15 students. It typically takes place from September to April and is assessed by written reports and presentations. It emphasises space systems engineering methodologies, and is designed to prepare our graduates for the project-based working environment often found in space companies and agencies. The topics chosen for the project are strongly influenced by industry.

Recent group projects have included:

  • Asteroid Sample Return,
  • Titan Exploration Mission,
  • European Data Relay Satellite System.

Our part-time students are encouraged to participate in a group project as it provides a wealth of learning opportunities. However, an option of an individual dissertation is available if agreed with the Course Director.

Watch a past presentation video to give you a taster of our innovative and exciting group projects (YouTube):

Individual project

The individual research project is the largest single component of the course typically taking place between April and August. It allows you to develop specialist skills in an area of your choice by taking the theory from the taught modules and joining it with practical experience. A list of suggested topics is provided, and includes projects proposed by academic staff and industry.

Recent individual research projects have included:

  • Thermal Analysis of a Google Lunar X-Prize Rover,
  • CubeSat Ground Station Implementation,
  • Responsive Space and Concurrent Engineering,
  • Space Suit Performance During Seat Ingress/Egress,
  • Radar Data Simulation for Soil Moisture Estimation.

Part-time students are encouraged to participate in a group project as it provides a wealth of learning opportunities. However, an option of an individual dissertation is available if agreed with the Course Director.


Keeping our courses up-to-date and current requires constant innovation and change. The modules we offer reflect the needs of business and industry and the research interests of our staff and, as a result, may change or be withdrawn due to research developments, legislation changes or for a variety of other reasons. Changes may also be designed to improve the student learning experience or to respond to feedback from students, external examiners, accreditation bodies and industrial advisory panels.

To give you a taster, we have listed the compulsory and elective (where applicable) modules which are currently affiliated with this course. All modules are indicative only, and may be subject to change for your year of entry.

Course modules

Compulsory modules
All the modules in the following list need to be taken as part of this course.

Astrodynamics and Mission Analysis

Module Leader
  • Dr Joan Pau Sanchez Cuartielles

    To provide a critical understanding of the basic principles of Astrodynamics and Mission Analysis and of their application to typical mission analysis problems.


    Astrodynamics - Keplerian orbital motion

    • Newton’s Law of Gravitation.
    • Equations of Motion for a two body system.
    • Motion in a Central Field. Conic Sections.
    • The Geometry of the Ellipse. Kepler's Laws.
    • The Position-Time Problem.
    • The Energy Integral.
    • The Satellite Orbit in Space.

    Astrodynamics - Orbit Perturbations. 

    • Variation of Parameters.
    • Perturbations Caused by Earth Oblateness.
    • Perturbations Caused by a Third Body.
    • Triaxiality Perturbations.

    Mission analysis

    • Orbit Selection for Mission Design.
    • Hohmann Transfer and Inclinations Changes.
    • Hyperbolic Passage.
    • Patched Conics Interplanetary trajectories.
Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this module the student should :

  • Be able to apply appropriate techniques to solve a range of practical astrodynamics and mission analysis problems
  • Be able to describe widely used orbit types and their applications, and evaluate the perturbations on these orbits
  • Be able to plan impulsive orbital manoeuvres to achieve mission design requirements.

Space Systems Engineering


    To demonstrate how to develop the design of a space system, from the initial mission objective, through requirements definition, concept development and trade-off, and through to a baseline design.

    • Brief history & context: Background to the development of space, agencies, funding, future missions.
    • Introduction to space system design methodology: requirements, trade-off analysis, design specifications, system budgets.
    • Spacecraft sub-systems design: Structure & configuration; Power, the power budget and solar array and battery sizing; Communications and the link budget; Attitude determination and control; Orbit determination and control; Thermal control.
    • Mission and payload types Spacecraft configuration: examples of configuration of spacecraft designed for various mission types; case study.
    • Introduction to cost engineering.
    • Space and Spacecraft Environment: Radiation, vacuum, debris, spacecraft charging, material behaviour and outgassing.
    • Assembly, Integration and Test processes; Launch campaign; Space mission operations.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Establish quantitative mission requirements.
2. Characterise the mission design drivers and identify solution options at system and subsystem level.
3. Evaluate the performance of options by means of a trade-off analysis.
4. Produce a baseline system definition, with appropriate engineering budgets.
5. Outline a programme plan to verify the system performance.

Space Propulsion

    To provide an understanding of the thermofluid dynamic concepts underlying rocket and air-breathing space propulsion and of your implications for launch vehicle and spacecraft system performance and design.
    Introduction: The interactions between propulsion system, mission & spacecraft design.

    Launch Vehicle Performance: Mission requirements, Vehicle dynamics, Tsiolkovski rocket equation, Launch vehicle sizing & multi-staging, Illustrative launcher performance (Scout, Ariane, Shuttle programmes) - launch site / range safety constraints, Geostationary orbit acquisition.
    Expendable Launch Vehicles - Current Options: Vehicle design summaries, Orbital transfer vehicles, Comparative launch costs, Reusable launchers.

    Propulsion Fundamentals:
    Systems classification, Nozzle flows, Off-design considerations (under/over-expanded flows), Thermochemistry.

    Space Propulsion Systems and Performance: Propellants and combustion, Solid and liquid propellant systems, Engine cycles: Spacecraft propulsion - orbit raising, station-keeping and attitude control, Propellant management at low-g - alternative storage and delivery systems: Electric propulsion, Separately-powered rocket performance, Low thrust manoeuvres, Thruster concepts and configurations.

    Air-Breathing Propulsion for Launcher Applications:
    Motivation, Concepts and Mach number Constraints: Ramjet cycle analysis - implications of alternative fuels, intake design, Supersonic combustion, Air liquefaction cycles, Future trends in launcher configuration.
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. ​Demonstrate a critical understanding the constraints imposed by launch vehicle performance & operation on mission analysis.
2. Perform preliminary mission design studies which accommodate the capabilities of the major launch systems currently available.
3. Use one-dimensional gas dynamic relationships to perform initial propulsion system design point and off-design calculations.
4. Be familiar with the principal options for propulsion system design in relation to both boosters and secondary spacecraft propulsion, and to be able to assess critically their relative strengths in a range of mission applications.
5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the determining factors in high speed flows which constrain the application of air-breathing propulsion to space launcher applications and the current responses to the technical challenges posed.

Elective modules
One of modules from the following list need to be taken as part of this course

Control Systems


    To provide knowledge of the fundamentals of control engineering for the analysis and design of control systems in aerospace applications.

    • Feedback control system characteristics.
    • Control system performance.
    • Stability of Linear Feedback Systems.
    • Root locus method.
    • Frequency response method.
    • Nyquist stability.
    • Classical controller design.
    • State variable controller design.
    • Robust control.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a you should be able to:
1. Analyse and explain the stability, characteristics, behaviour and robustness of single input/ single- output feedback control systems.
2. Design controllers for single-input single-output systems.
3. Use modern PC-based CAD software to solve control engineering problems and design control systems using classical methods.
4. Recognise and explain the advantages and limitations of feedback and recognise the importance of robustness.

Finite Element Analysis


    The course is aimed at giving potential Finite Element USERS basic understanding of the inner workings of the method.

    The objective is to introduce users to the terminology, basic numerical and mathematical aspects of the method. This should help students to avoid some of the more common and important user errors, many of which stem from a "black box" approach to this technique. Some basic guidelines are also given on how to approach the modelling of structures using the Finite Element Method.


    • Background to Finite Element Methods (FEM) and its application.
    • Introduction to FE modelling: Idealisation, Discretisation, Meshing and Post Processing.
    • Tracking and controlling errors in a finite element analysis. ‘Do’s and don’ts’ of modelling.
    • Illustration of basics of FEM using the Direct Stiffness method to define both terminology and theoretical approach.
    • Problems of large systems of equations for FE, and solution methods. 
    • Damage modelling and its validation process.
    • Digitalisation of materials and analysis for design optimisation.
    • NASTRAN application sessions.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Appraise the underlying principles and key aspects of practical application of FEA to structural problems. 
  • Calculate the main mathematical and numerical aspects of the element formulations for 1D, 2D and 3D elements. 
  • Construct and analyse finite element models based on structural and continuum elements with proper understanding of limitations of the FEM. 
  • Evaluate results of the analyses and assess error levels. 
  • Critically evaluate the constraints and implications imposed by the finite element method. 

Design and Analysis of Composite Structures


    To introduce you to the composite materials, manufacturing techniques and analysis methods for the design of aerospace composite structures.

    • Introduction; Types of composite materials, especially FRP composites.
    • Overview of composites manufacturing techniques.
    • Micromechanics and macro mechanics for stiffness and strength analysis of a FRP ply; Macro mechanics, constitutive equation, stiffness and strength analysis of a FRP laminate; Thermal and moisture residual stresses in a FRP laminate.
    • Stress analysis of an open section FRP composite structure subjected to various loadings.
    • Stress analysis of a closed section FRP composite structure subjected to various loadings.
    • Design guidelines and examples for composite structure design and analysis.
    • Computer programmes for laminate stress, buckling of laminate and stiffened skin.

    The classroom assignment on composite manufacturing techniques will take place towards the end of this module. The date and time will be confirmed by the tutor. The assignment is a one hour written paper that will take place in the classroom under exam conditions. This assignment is formally assessed and is worth 25% of the marks available for this module.

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the key features and particular properties of composite materials, especially fibre reinforced plastics (FRP).
2. Apply analytical methods for the evaluation of moisture and thermal effects on a FRP laminate.
3. Able to evaluate the strength of a FRP laminate based on stress analysis and failure criteria.
4. Able to perform stress analysis of laminated composite structures with open and closed sections subjected to various loadings.

Multivariable Control Systems for Aerospace Applications

Module Leader
  • Professor James Whidborne
    To provide a knowledge of modern control techniques for the analysis and design of multivariable aerospace control systems.
    Multivariable System Analysis
    • Multivariable linear systems theory
    • System realizations
    • Controllability, observability and canonical forms
    • Size of signals and systems

    Multivariable Control System Design
    • System interconnection and feedback
    • Optimal linear quadratic control and estimation
    • Uncertainty and conditions for robustness
    • H-infinity optimal control
Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:
1. Analyse the stability, robustness and performance of multivariable aerospace control systems.
2. Design robust and optimal feedback control systems using state variable techniques using MATLAB.
3. Recognise the advantages and limitations of optimal feedback control.

Spacecraft Attitude Dynamics and Control

Module Leader
  • Dr Joan Pau Sanchez Cuartielles

    To provide an introduction to spacecraft kinematics and dynamics, focussing on rigid body dynamics and control of Earth orbiting satellites.

    • How does spacecraft dynamics relate to satellite control problem?
    • AOCS (Attitude & Orbit Control Sub-system) design process
    • Interactions with other sub-systems
    • Control loop representation

    • Attitude representation: Euler angles, Euler parameters (quaternions)
    • Common reference frames (inertial, orbit referenced)
    • Transformation between reference frames
    • Small angle linearisation (reduction of 3dof control problem to 1dof)

    Rigid body dynamics:
    • Euler's equations for rigid bodies
    • Axisymetric spacecraft & free-body dynamics
    • Disturbance torques

    Application to spacecraft control:
    • Simulating spacecraft free-body kinematics & dynamics in MATLAB
    • Sensor basics (sun sensors, star trackers, rate sensors)
    • Actuator basics (thrusters, reaction wheels)
    • Rate control of rigid body spacecraft
    • Attitude control of 3-axis stabilised spacecraft

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

1. Be able to demonstrate a critical understanding of the dynamics and kinematics of rotational motion of spacecraft
2. Be able to apply appropriate techniques to solve a range of practical spacecraft dynamics and control problems

Aerospace Navigation and Sensors

    The aim of this module is to provide an introduction to the principles of aerospace navigation systems based on inertial sensors and satellite navigation as well as to provide an introduction to the principles of sensor fusion, system integration and error analysis and prediction.
    GNSS and INS

    • Introduction (1 hour)
    Overview of navigation principles, typical applications; axis systems and projections (1 hour)
    • Inertial Navigation Systems (3 hours)
    Principles of inertial navigation; accelerometers, gyroscopes, specific technologies such as Ring Laser Gyros; Axis transformations and mechanisation of IN equations; Errors in inertial navigation, Schuler loop tuning, INS modelling & aiding
    • GNSS (6 hours)
    Development history: GNSS, GPS, GLONASS, EGNOS, Galileo; GPS system architecture (ground, space, user segments); Code (CDMA) and carrier techniques; signal processing (correlation), integer ambiguities; Error sources (natural, other); Augmentation: differential GPS (local, wide area), other sensors (e.g. INS); Applications / issues: user groups (aviation, space), integrity (RAIM), accuracy, reliability

    Sensors and Data Fusion

    • Error Characteristics of Aircraft Sensors, INS, GPS, VOR, DME (2 lectures)
    • Random Signals And Random Processes (1 lecture)
    • Measurement In Noise (1 lecture)
    • Error Analysis (2 lectures)
    • Discrete Kalman Filter (2 lectures)
    • Case Study: Barometric Aiding For INS (1 lecture)
    • Case Study: GPS models (1 lecture)

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

1. Explain and discuss the roles of inertial and satellite navigation in aerospace.
2. Explain and discuss inertial navigation principles, error sources, and aerospace applications.
3. Explain and discuss satellite navigation principles, error sources, applications and key issues.

Sensors and Data Fusion:
4. Explain the principles of data acquisition systems and design a basic system.
5. Design and implement a simple Kalman filter to process measurements and estimate position, velocity, etc.
6. Appreciate the design methods using to integrate aerospace navigation systems.

Advanced Topics in Astrodynamics and Trajectory Design

    To provide an introduction to the state-of-the-art in applied mathematics and techniques in astrodynamics and trajectory design.
    1. Refresher of Matlab Programming:
    • The Matlab Environment
    • Matrices and Operators
    • Scripts and Functions
    • Loops
    • Programmer’s toolbox
    2. Lambert Arc:
    • Two-body orbital boundary-value problem
    • Minimum energy transfer
    • F & G Solutions for elliptic orbits
    • Differential Correctors and Continuation methods
    3. Pork-chop plots:
    • Hohmann transfer and Patched Conics
    • Lambert arc grid search and visualization
    • Earth Escape and C3
    • Synodic Period
    4. Low thrust trajectory design:
    • Gravity losses
    • Method of variation of parameters and sub-optimal control laws
    • Edelbaum Solution
    • Shape-base methods
    5. Circular Restricted Three Body Problem:
    • Synodic reference frame
    • Equations of motion
    • Jacobi Integral
    • Equilibrium Points
    • Zero Velocity Curves
    6. Libration Point Orbits:
    • Stability of the equilibrium points
    • Classification of Fixed Points
    • Periodic Orbits near L1 and L2

Intended learning outcomes On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:
1. Be able to write reliable code to solve realistic mission analysis scenarios.
2. Be able to apply a range of applied mathematical techniques to solve trajectory design problems and be able to independently expand on appropriate tools and know-how when necessary.
3. Identify most common non-Keplerian orbit types and explain their applications.
4. Reflect on the current challenges in trajectory design for both Earth observation and interplanetary missions.

I think space is the future – this is my chance to be right at the forefront of that. My thesis was the interaction between engineering and medicine in space. For me the course was perfect. I was looking for something fairly specific and I looked around, but I didn't apply to anywhere else.

I chose to study at Cranfield University as I liked the fact that they only offer master's courses and is suitable for mature students. I choose the Astronautics and Space Engineering MSc because I liked all the topics covered and it was what I needed to change my career. My group project was about the preliminary design of a space mission for studying reproduction of bees in space. Now that I have completed my MSc, I am starting a new job in the space industry as a control engineer. I can say I achieved my career goal thanks to completing my MSc at Cranfield University.
I had the opportunity to do a double degree during the last year of my master's in France. I chose to study at Cranfield because of the high-quality course in Space Engineering. A highlight from my time at Cranfield has been working on the Group Design Project with a team, it was exciting! My Individual Research Project was on debris removal in space, and it was sponsored by Rocket Factory Augsburg. My plan for after I finish my MSc is to work as a mission engineer in the space industry.

Teaching team

You will be taught by a small team of dedicated space engineering specialists. Previous sponsors of their work include UK research councils, the European Commission, the Royal Society British National Space Centre, and the European Space Agency. Knowledge gained working with our clients is continually fed back into the teaching programme to ensure that you benefit from the very latest knowledge and techniques affecting industry. The course also includes visiting lecturers from industry who will relate the theory to current best practice. In recent years, our students have received lectures from industry speakers including: Professor M Rycroft, International Space University, Professor B Parkinson, EADS Astrium, Dr S Hardacre, EADS Astrium and various external speakers from the UK Space Agency. The Course Director for this programme is Dr Jennifer Kingston.


The Astronautics and Space Engineering MSc is accredited by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) on behalf of the Engineering Council as meeting the requirements for further learning for registration as a Chartered Engineer (CEng). Candidates must hold a CEng accredited BEng/BSc (Hons) undergraduate first degree to show that they have satisfied the educational base for CEng registration.

Your career

Cranfield University is heavily supported by the space industry in the UK. Many of these companies provide case study lectures, concepts and thesis topics for the individual research projects, and some actively support the group design projects. They also provide a guide to the content of the course, so they are confident that Cranfield are training people with the industry skills employers require.

As a result, our graduates are regularly recruited by organisations including EADS Astrium, SSTL, Vega, ABSL, Tessella, OHB, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the European Space Agency in roles including Systems Engineer, Spacecraft Operations Engineer, Thermal Analyst and Space Robotics Engineer. We arrange company visits and interview days with key employers.

If your interests lie in research, many former students have gone on to pursue PhDs at Cranfield and other universities.

Cranfield’s Career Service is dedicated to helping you meet your career aspirations. You will have access to career coaching and advice, CV development, interview practice, access to hundreds of available jobs via our Symplicity platform and opportunities to meet recruiting employers at our careers fairs. Our strong reputation and links with potential employers provide you with outstanding opportunities to secure interesting jobs and develop successful careers. Support continues after graduation and as a Cranfield alumnus, you have free life-long access to a range of career resources to help you continue your education and enhance your career.

How to apply

Click on the ‘Apply Now’ button to start your online application.

There is a non-refundable application fee of £75 for this course for 2024-25 entry onward.

Find out more about the application fee and how to pay it.

See our Application guide for information on our application process and entry requirements.