Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


16.50 Introduction to Propulsion Systems

Course Description

This course covers the fundamentals of rocket propulsion and discusses advanced concepts in space propulsion ranging from chemical to electrical thrusters. Topics include advanced mission analysis, physics and engineering of microthrusters, solid propellant rockets, electrothermal, electrostatic, and electromagnetic schemes for accelerating propellant. Additionally, satellite power systems and their relation to propulsion systems are discussed. The course includes laboratory work emphasizing the design and characterization of electric propulsion engines.

Training Requirements

For the laboratory project, students were required to go through the MIT-EHS safety training before gaining access to the laboratory. In addition, specific training at the MIT Space Propulsion Laboratory (SPL) was required.

Textbook and Additional Resources


Problems Sets (5 total, only first four problem sets were graded) 25%
Laboratory Project 25%
Midterm Exam (open book and notes, lectures 1–12.) 25%
Final Exam (open book and notes, lectures 13–25.) 25%


1 Introduction  
2 Fundamentals and Definitions  
3–4 Mission Analysis  
5 Review of Classical Astrodynamics  
6 Analytical Approximations for Low Thrust Maneuvers Problem Set 1 due
7 Sub-optimal Climb and Plane Change  
8 Basic Electromagnetic Theory and Plasma Physics  
9 Overview of the Physics in the Plasma Sheath Problem Set 2 due
10 Electrostatic Thrusters (Kaufman Ion Engines)  
11 Characterization of Space Propulsion Devices  
12 Monopropellant Thrusters Problem Set 3 due
  Midterm Exam
13 Electrothermal Augmentation  
14 Plasmas in Equilibrium  
15 Arcjet Thrusters Problem Set 4 due
16 Hall Thrusters  
17 Hall Thruster Efficiency  
18 Hall Thrusters: Fluid Model of the Discharge  
19 Plasma Accelerators / Magneto Plasma Dynamic (MPD) Thrusters Problem Set 5 discussed in class
20 Electrospray Propulsion  
21 Laboratory Project Presentations & Discussion Lab Project due
22–23 Cone-jet Electrosprays, or Colloid Thrusters  
24 Ion Emission and the Pure Ionic Regime  
25 Electrodynamic Tethers  
  Final Exam