Plan of study

Plan of Study

The academic year is divided into two periods, the first running from mid September to December, the second from late February to end of May. Courses are taught over one or two periods and are attributed a number of credits in proportion to the estimated time required for their preparation. In compliance with the ETCS regulations, one Credit (or CFU, Credito Formativo Universitario) corresponds to 25 estimated hours of student work, including class lectures, study and laboratory training. For teaching-oriented activities the student work load is approximately divided into 1/3 for classes and 2/3 for independent study. For laboratory-oriented activities the student work load is divided into approximately equal parts for classes and independent study.

To qualify for the MSSE program, a student has to gain 120 credits in two years (60 credits per year) by passing the examinations of the student’s approved curriculum. The program of study consists of 84 credits of required courses, 12 credits of approved elective courses, and 24 credits for the preparation of the graduation thesis. Elective courses different from the ones suggested by the University are to be chosen from courses that support the broader goals of the space engineering program, subject to the approval of the Degree Program Board (Consiglio di Corso di Laurea). Students willing to follow a program different from the suggested one must have it approved by the Degree Program Board prior to registration for the second academic year of work toward the degree.

For the 2018/19 academic year the plan of study suggested by the University for the Space Engineering curriculum is the following:

Year 1 Period Credits
Aerospace Structures 1st & 2nd 12 CFU
Aerospace Dynamic Systems Analysis 1st 6 CFU
Spaceflight Mechanics 1st & 2nd 12 CFU
Electric Propulsion I 1st 6 CFU
Electric Propulsion II 2nd 6 CFU
Fundamentals of Spacecraft Technology 1st 6 CFU
Fluid Dynamics of Propulsion Systems I 1st 6 CFU
Fluid Dynamics of Propulsion Systems II 2nd 6 CFU
Year 2
Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms 1st & 2nd 12 CFU
Rocket Propulsion 1st & 2nd 12 CFU
Space Systems 1st & 2nd 12 CFU
Final Project 1st & 2nd 24 CFU

No special approval is necessary if the program suggested by the University is chosen. In consultation with his or her advisor, a student may design a program of study consisting in a different set of graduate courses chosen among those offered by other graduate programs of Aerospace Engineering, totaling the prescribed number of credits and approved by the Degree Program Board.

Thesis. The preparation and discussion of a final thesis with a substantial research content and distinctive originality is required.

Final Examination. A final graduation examination is required, where the candidate will present and discuss the contents and results of his or her thesis work. The final examination is conducted by a Committee appointed by the Director of the Department. Graduation is awarded upon satisfactory completion of all of the required courses and successful discussion of the thesis.


The courses offered for the MSSE option during the 2017/18 academic year are briefly illustrated below together with the relevant information: name, lecture period (1st/2nd semester), number of credits, description, instructor, prerequisites (if any), proficiency verification procedure.

Aerospace Dynamic Systems Analysis. 6 CFU, 1st semester. The Course aims at providing an in-depth knowledge of techniques for the modelling, the analysis and the stability/performance characterisation of open-loop dynamic systems. Techniques for ODE systems linearization, classical control theory (Laplace transforms and transfer functions) and state-space approach are presented, with particular reference to aerospace case studies. A specific part of the Course is also dedicated to the use of Matlab-Simulink CAE tools for the simulation and analysis of dynamic systems. Instructor: Gianpietro Di Rito. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Written and oral exam.

Aerospace Structures. 1st & 2nd semester, 12 CFU. Continuum mechanics, strain and stress tensors, constitutive equations. Strain gauges. Theories of beams (De Saint Venant solids; beam systems, virtual work and strain energy principles; stress characteristics; design criteria), plates (simply supported rectangular plates), thin structures (wing, fuselage, tail structures), and pressurized vessels (cylindrical and spherical). Buckling of beams and plates (Euler’s theory, semi-empirical solutions for panels). Aerospace structures in the multidisciplinary context of aircraft design. The PrandtlPlane aircraft configuration. Instructor: Mario Chiarelli. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Electric Propulsion I, 6 CFU, 1st semester. The course introduces the basic background necessary to tackle the study and the experimentation of the electric propulsion systems for space applications, develops the fundamentals of plasma physics and describes its application to the analysis of the acceleration process in electric thrusters for space applications. Instructor: Fabrizio Paganucci. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Electric Propulsion II, 6 CFU, 2nd semester. The course imparts the students a specialized preparation in the propulsion field extended to the most advanced or more recently introduced technologies, and provides them with the knowledge concerning the principles of operation, the typical performance, the critical aspects and the state of development of electric thrusters for space applications needed to address the main problems of analysis, design, integration and usage. Instructor: Mariano Andrenucci. Prerequisites: Electric Propulsion I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Spacecraft Structures and Mechanisms. 12 CFU, 1st & 2nd semester. The student who successfully completes the course will be able to demonstrate a good knowledge of both mechanical and technological aspects that refer to the space structures and to the mechanisms; will be aware of fatigue and fracture mechanics of metallic materials; will be able to solve problems of mechanics and will be able to prepare a technical report at the end of a project exercise. Instructor: Mario Chiarelli. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Discussion of the project assignment and oral exam.

Rocket Propulsion. 1st & 2nd semesters, 12 CFU. Rocket propulsion fundamentals, systems, technologies. Mission trajectories and propulsive requirements. Chemical rocket performance and parameters. Nozzles, configurations, limitations and optimization. Solid propellant rockets, grain combustion and design, transients, instabilities, two-phase effects, thermal protections. Liquid propellant rockets, propellant management, injection, combustion, non-equilibrium effects, chamber sizing, instabilities, cooling. Hybrid rockets, grain combustion and design, instabilities. Turbomachinery, architectures, performance, stresses and materials, parameters and similarity. Axial machines: bladings, losses, instabilities, reaction and impulse turbines, cooling. Radial machines: bladings, slip velocity. Turbopumps, inducers, compressors, gas and hydraulic turbines. Rotordynamics, critical speeds, damping, nonlinear oscillations. Cavitating turbopumps, similarity parameters, suction performance, thermal cavitation, instabilities, rotordynamic forces. Instructor: Luca d’Agostino. Prerequisites: Fuid Dynamics of Propulsion Systems I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Fundamentals of Spacecraft Technology. 1st semester, 6 CFU. The course is designed to provide an overview of modern space instrumentation and sensors used in commercial and scientific payloads for near Earth and interplanetary missions. Following an introduction on the space environment and operating conditions for various mission categories, the course introduces the basic types of space instrumentation and space sensors and how they are modeled and calibrated. The discussion covers aspects of satellite communications including topics related to signals and spectra, coding and modulation; navigation and signal processing applied to navigation receivers, remote sensing as well as radar and image processing, telemetry and link budget, data storage and handling, spacecraft bus design. Instructor: Salvo Marcuccio. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Space Flight Mechanics. 12 CFU, 1st & 2nd semester. The student who completes the course successfully will be able to demonstrate a solid knowledge of the main issues related to the knowledge of physical phenomena and analytical procedures required to understand and predict the behavior of orbiting spacecraft. He or she will be aware of the modern methodologies and suitable application tools, both from a theoretical and a practical viewpoint, required to tackle a mission analysis in terms of orbital mechanics and attitude control. The course comprises a detailed introduction to both orbital mechanics and spacecraft dynamics and control. The orbital mechanics includes the Keplerian orbits, the problem of orbital transfers with impulsive manevers and low thrust transfers, the orbital perturbations, and an analysis of interplanetary trajectories using the method of patched conics. The spacecraft dynamics includes the attitude motion of spacecraft, the gravity gradient stabilization with passive damping, the spacecraft dynamics with momentum wheels and the attitude control systems. Instructor: Giovanni Mengali. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Space Systems. 1st & 2nd semesters, 12 CFU. The course illustrates the fundamental aspects of modern space system design with a practical, hands-on approach. The core part of the course is dedicated to a near-Earth or interplanetary space mission design project, to be carried out by student teams on the basis of a broad-scope mission definition statement. The main issues involved in the design of a space mission are addressed: from the definition of mission goals, to the evaluation of alternative mission concepts, to the selection of a launch system, to mission operations. Team work aspects for a concurrent engineering approach and presentation techniques for complex projects are also introduced and discussed. Projects deal with assessment of the technical feasibility and economic viability of different mission scenarios; selection of mission profile and timeline; design of orbits and trajectories; launch and in-orbit operations; sizing of the main onboard susbsystems (attitude, power, thermal conditioning, propulsion, telecommunications, sensors, etc.) for the relevant space vehicles; and basic project management. Instructor: Salvo Marcuccio. Prerequisites: Fundamentals of Spacecraft Technology. Proficiency verification: Project report, public presentation and individual oral exam.

Fluid Dynamics of Propulsion Systems I. 1st semester, 6 CFU. The course covers the fundamentals of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics necessary for the students to understand the operation of chemical rocket propulsion systems and tackle the main problems of their conception, analysis, design, integration and use. A unified approach is used to integrate the knowledges of Advanced Thermodynamics, Thermochemistry, Chemical Kinetics, Gas Kinetics with Fluid Dynamics with special focus on Gas Dynamics and Ideal Flow. Instructor: Angelo Pasini. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Fluid Dynamics of Propulsion Systems II. 2nd semester, 6 CFU. The course covers the fundamentals of thermodynamics and fluid dynamics necessary for the students to understand the operation of chemical rocket propulsion systems and tackle the main problems of their conception, analysis, design, integration and use. A unified approach is used to integrate the knowledges of Acoustics, Hydrodynamics, Heat Transfer, Laminar Viscous Flows, Fluid Dynamic Stability and Turbulent Transition, Turbulent Flows, Chemically Reacting Flows and Elements of Combustion, Two-Phase Flows and Cavitation. Instructor: Luca d’Agostino. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Academic Calendar

The academic calendar defines the periods of lectures, examinations and vacations for all of the Engineering courses offered at the University of Pisa. All Engineering courses are taught over two semesters separated by a period reserved for the examinations. Yearly courses are also held in two segments, with intermediate exams, if any, held during the recess period between lectures. The first semester develops from September to February and the second from February to July.

Lecture Periods (approximate dates – see this page for detailed info

  • 1st period: end September – mid December
  • 2nd period: early March – end of May with one week vacation for Easter


  • 3 sessions in January and February (three weeks between sessions)
  • 3 sessions in June and July (three weeks between sessions)
  • 2 sessions in September (three weeks between sessions)



Numerical grades from less than 18/30 (failed) to 30/30 e lode (honors) are used to indicate the level of the student’s performance. Pass/Conditional/Fail grading can also be used for short and seminarial courses.

Numerical grades from 66/110 (sufficient) to 110/110 e lode (honors) are used in the final examination to indicate the level of the student’s performance throughout his/her degree program in aerospace engineering disciplines.