The module descriptors for this programme can be found below.

Modules shown are for the current academic year and are subject to change depending on your year of entry.

Please note that the curriculum of this programme is currently being reviewed as part of a College-wide process to introduce a standardised modular structure. As a result, the content and assessment structures of this course may change for your year of entry. We therefore recommend that you check this course page before finalising your application and after submitting it as we will aim to update this page as soon as any changes are ratified by the College.

Find out more about the limited circumstances in which we may need to make changes to or in relation to our courses, the type of changes we may make and how we will tell you about changes we have made.

Aerothermodynamics of Launchers and Re-entry Vehicles

Module aims

This course explores the unique flow physics experienced by vehicles travelling at hypersonic speeds in an atmosphere. Compressible flow relations introduced in previous years are modified for hypersonic conditions and the role of viscosity is considered in the form of compressible boundary layers and shock/boundary-layer interactions. These building blocks are applied to predict the aero-thermodynamic performance of past and current spacecraft designed for atmospheric entry missions and evaluate new and emerging technologies that meet future mission requirements. The equations of motion to describe an entry mission and the entry environment itself are also defined.

- To familiarise students with the unique technical and environmental challenges of designing spacecraft capable of leaving and entering a planetary atmosphere;
- To equip students with the knowledge and tools to analyse and design such vehicles.

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing this module, you should be able to: 1. Appraise the extreme environments experienced by spacecraft during atmospheric entry and apply this knowledge to analyse the aero-thermodynamic performance of aerospace vehicles at hypersonic conditions, including the role of compressible boundary layers and shock/boundary-layer interactions; 2. Evaluate existing state-of-the-art designs and technologies for entry-descent-landing missions, based on an appreciation of the advantages and limitations of the various tools and methodologies available for doing so; 3. Evaluate the contrasting demands of re-entry missions on Earth and Mars, based on the parameters which affect the trajectories (spacecraft dynamics and atmospheric conditions); 4. Analyse the performance of current entry vehicles (including heat-shield technologies) and make appropriate design choices based on defined mission parameters; 5. Evaluate new and emerging technologies for future entry-descent-landing missions, including deployable ad inflatable aero-decelerators for high payloads missions to Mars. AHEP Learning Outcomes: SM7M, SM8M, EA6M, EA5m, EA7M, D9M, D10M, EL8M, EL9M, P9m, P12M, G1

Module syllabus

- Motivation for access to space incl. historical context;
- Inviscid hypersonic aerodynamics: governing equations incl. definition of continuum and Knudsen number, hypersonic shock and expansion relations, hypersonic similarity parameter, Newtonian theory, with numerous analytical examples.
- Viscous hypersonic aerodynamics (compressible boundary layers): boundary layer equations, special case of thin b-l at high Re, heat transfer and Reynolds analogy, compressible boundary layer scaling, similarity solutions: van Driest, Reference temperature, stagnation point flow physics and heat transfer, viscous interaction, entropy layers, hypersonic boundary layer transition, high temperature gas dynamics incl. real gas effects and basic chemistry.
- Overview of atmospheric entry mission requirements and design philosophy, historical context, with special focus on the challenges of Entry, Descent, and Landing;

  •  E: Entry vehicle heat shield design: conventional and advanced concepts;
  •  D: Descent stage aerodynamic (parachute) and retropropulsive (thrusters) decelerators;
  •  L: Landing technologies: airbags, thrusters, legs, etc.; 

- Overview of the re-entry environment: atmospheric composition and characteristics – focus on Earth and Mars (plus Venus, Titan).
- Basic principles of 3DOF and 6DOF re-entry trajectory modelling, including ballistic coefficient, definition of coordinate systems, illustrative examples for lifting and non-lifting geometries, stability.
- Methods for estimating convective heating during re-entry:

  • Step-by-step boundary-layer-based method
  • Engineering correlations: Chapman, Sutton-Graves

- Case study: Mars EDL for future human missions;
- Shock-wave/boundary-layer interactions: basic physics, prediction of separation, SBLI types and classification, supercritical wings, transonic stall, buffet, SBLI unsteadiness, 3D effects in SBLIs, onset of Regular-Mach transition, flow control for SBLIs.



Teaching methods

The module will be delivered primarily through large-class lectures introducing the key concepts and methods, supported by a variety of delivery methods combining the traditional and the technological.  The content is presented via a combination of slides, whiteboard and visualizer.Learning will be reinforced through tutorial question sheets.


This module presents opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.  
You will be formatively assessed through progress tests and tutorial sessions.
You will have additional opportunities to self-assess your learning via tutorial problem sheets.
You will be summatively assessed by a written closed-book examination at the end of the module.

Assessment type Assessment description Weighting Pass mark
Examination Closed-book written examination 100% 50%

You will receive feedback on examinations in the form of an examination feedback report on the performance of the entire cohort.

You will receive feedback on your performance whilst undertaking tutorial exercises, during which you will also receive instruction on the correct solution to tutorial problems.

Further individual feedback will be available to you on request via this module’s online feedback forum, through staff office hours and discussions with tutors.

Reading list


Module leaders

Dr Paul Bruce