Spacecraft Design Lab:
McDonnell Douglas Hall 2074

Spacecraft Operations Lab:
McDonnell Douglas Hall 2032

Michael Swartwout, PhD

Associate Professor of Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering

Parks College of Engineering, Aviation, and Technology
Saint Louis University
3450 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63103

Member of AIAA, IEEE

Office: McDonnell Douglas Hall 2081

phone: (314) 977-8214
fax: (314) 977-9510


    • PhD, Aeronautics & Astronautics, Stanford University, 2000
      Dissertation: "Theory and Implementation of Summarization: Improving Sensor Interpretation for Spacecraft Mission Operations"

    • MS, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, University of Illinois, 1992
      Thesis: "An Investigation of Minimum-Fuel Rendezvous for Low-Thrust, Constant Specific Impulse Engines in a Linearized Gravity Field"

    • BS, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, University of Illinois, 1991

[Clearly, I did not earn a degree in "Succinct Title-Writing" ...]

Research Interests

My primary research work is performed through the Space Systems Research Laboratory (information on our spacecraft missions is contained there).

  • CubeSat Design and Mission Assurance - I've developed an online database of every CubeSat (and secondary spacecraft) ever flown. Using that data, I am interested in improving our understanding how mission success (or lack thereof) relates to both the composition of the design team, the type of mission attempted and outside factors. The end goal is to be able to recommend mission categories and best-practices that will maximize the success rate for any type of CubeSat developer, whether they are hobbyists, high-schools, university clubs, startups or space behemoths.

    • Active work: A team of students are working with me to update/verify the CubeSat database. From there, we will continue to analyze/publish our analyses.

    • Primary Sponsor: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, through the NEPP Program.

    • How to get involved: E-mail me. The student team meets weekly for updates and reviews.

  • Design and operation of low-cost spacecraft - I'm particularly interested in the ways that universities can leverage their very high tolerance for risk to introduce new technologies and architectures that will improve the "professional" space industry. An enduring example of this is the CubeSat standard, developed by Profs. Twiggs (then at Stanford) and Puig-Suari (Cal-Poly), which were dismissed as a student trifling when they were invented and now make up the most common type of spacecraft launched. (Well, until Starlink.) My interests are in identifying technologies, yes, but also understanding why certain ideas catch on and others don't.

    • Active project: DORRE. SLU's fourth spacecraft (and fifth and probably sixth and seventh) will be part of a mission to demonstrate the viability of a highly-autonomous network to detect and respond to events. This work is a collaboration between SSRL and Bennett Research Technologies.

    • Primary sponsors:

    • How to get involved:

      • E-mail me, and I'll put you in touch with the student teams leads.

  • Space history, space logistics, and space mission failures - While those topics appear to have very little in common (other than the word "space"), the three are tightly intertwined: the success and failure of past space missions (and especially the reasons for those failures) have a direct effect on the logistics of modern space missions (i.e., the organizations involved in space and the manner in which spacecraft are designed, tested, launched and operated). Some speak of the "cost and risk death spiral" of modern space missions, where expensive spacecraft cannot be allowed to fail, which means additional time and money is spent on redundancies, analysis and testing, which means they are even more expensive, which makes it even more necessary to eliminate failure, which means additional time and money on redundancies, analysis, and testing ... well, I'm interested in spiraling the other direction, where we build missions so inexpensively that we can fly more of them, and can afford to let one or two fail. This isn't a matter of just spending less money, but of carefully defining missions, risk and the way in which one will approach the design process.

    • Active work: A small group of students is working with me to develop SysML and Simulink models of spacecraft and rockets. We're researching whether those models can be used to automatically diagnose problems with the vehicles, and help us improve the initial designs to be more reliable.

    • Primary Sponsor: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, through the NEPP Program.

    • How to get involved: E-mail me. This work is mainly pursued by individual students, but we're close to having enough to set up a full team.

Courses Taught at SLU

In my regular rotation

  • ESCI 1700 / 1701: First Year Seminar

  • ESCI 2150: Dynamics

  • AENG 3150: Astrodynamics

  • AENG 4050: Space Mission Analysis & Design

  • AENG 5850: Space Mission Failures

Occasional Offerings

  • AENG 2000: Introduction to Aeronautics & Astronautics

  • ESCI 3110: Linear Vibrations

  • ESCI 3201: Fluids Laboratory

  • MENG 4300: Heat Transfer

Courses No Longer Offered

  • AENG/MENG 1001 (nee ESCI 101): First-Year Engineering for AE, ME

  • AENG/MENG 1002 (nee ESCI 102): Computer-Aided Design

  • IDE 1010: Interdisciplinary Engineering