Space Systems Exam Information


The purpose is to specify the processes and policies of the Ph.D. qualifying examination for the Space Systems group in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Goal of the Qualifying Examination

The goal of the Ph.D. qualifying examination is to evaluate whether a student is qualified for, and likely to succeed in, the doctoral program in the Department of Aerospace Engineering under the advisement of faculty in the space systems group.

Qualifying Examination Technical Content

The student is expected to be familiar with basic concepts in space systems, including, but not limited to:

  • basic principles of systems engineering (e.g. stakeholders, requirements, trade spaces, interfaces, testing and integration)
  • the space environment and solar system bodies
  • 2-body orbital mechanics
  • spacecraft subsystem technologies (e.g. payload; communications; power; structures; avionics; guidance, navigation, and control; thermal control; propulsion; software)

The student will be provided with reference materials that better define expectations of the depth of knowledge required for the above topics not less than 3 months prior to the examination.

Examination Format and Administration

The examination shall be a 60-minute oral evaluation of the student by the exam committee.

Examination Format

The examination shall consist of an oral presentation by the student followed by a question-and-answer session.

Oral Presentation

The oral presentation will be a 20-minute formal technical presentation on one of the following:

  • The student’s M.S. thesis (recommended)
  • A journal publication authored by the student
  • Other significant research completed by the student

The student must present an entire research project, including results; presentation of a research plan or literature review is not acceptable. All proposed presentation topics are subject to approval by the examination committee.

The student may use electronic and other media, as necessary, to support his/her presentation. Technical presentations shall begin promptly at the stated examination time and be between 15 and 20 minutes in duration. The student must submit a title and abstract of the research s/he will present to the examination committee at least one month in advance of the examination date.

Question and Answer Session

The question and answer session shall begin when the student completes the oral presentation and continue until the end of the 60-minute examination. The student will be asked technical questions pertaining to the oral presentation and the space systems content enumerated in Section III of this document.

Examination Committee

The examination committee will consist of at least three faculty members from the College of Engineering with expertise in space systems, subject to the following restrictions:

  • The student’s academic advisor (or anticipated academic advisor) may not serve on the examination committee. However, the academic advisor may attend his/her student’s qualifying examination.
  • Examination committee members shall hold an earned Ph.D. in a field relevant to space systems (as determined by the space systems group).
  • Examination committee members shall be members of the graduate college.
  • At least one examination committee member shall be a faculty member in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.
  • Each examination committee will designate a member as chair. The chair shall be responsible for ensuring all required parties, materials, and resources are present for the examination.

Examination Scheduling

For a given examination opportunity, all space systems Ph.D. qualifying examinations will occur on the same day if reasonably possible.

Evaluation Criteria

Upon completion of all the examinations for a particular opportunity, the examination committee will meet and vote on whether each student has passed or failed the examination. A student’s faculty advisor may attend this meeting and advocate for his/her student. A passing grade will be given to any student who receives a majority of votes from the examination committee. A student will either pass the examination or fail the examination. No conditional passes or intermediate results are permitted. A tie vote will result in a failing grade. The result of the vote shall not be disclosed outside the examination committee (and faculty advisor) except for the pass/fail result of the examination. At their option, the examination committee may provide limited, written feedback to each student who receives a failing grade.

The examination committee will assess the student’s examination performance based on the following criteria:

  • Technical communication skills, including, but not limited to: oral delivery; clarity; supporting media, e.g. slides;
  • Demonstrated understanding of the technical topic presented
  • Demonstrated ability to answer technical questions
  • Demonstrated knowledge of basic technical topics related to space systems


A student may elect to retake the examination after a failed attempt. One retake is permitted per student, resulting in a maximum of two examinations. Failure to pass the retake of the examination will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program, as per department policy.

Graduate Contacts

Ioannis Chasiotis   
Director of Graduate Studies

Jenna Russell

Jenna Russell
Graduate Programs Coordinator

Dung Quach Wisdom

Dung Quach Wisdom
Graduate Programs Advisor