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MSSE Program

Aims and Scope

The MSSE Graduate Program offers advanced study and research leading to the Master of Science degree in Space Engineering (Laurea Magistrale in Ingegneria Aerospaziale - Indirizzo Spaziale). According to the standardized European System of higher education (Bologna process), this higher level degree is a 2-year graduate program involving a mandatory basis of 120 ECTS credits including a 24 credits research thesis. The program is exclusively offered in English to both national and international students.

The program has been established and is specifically intended to train specialized professionals able to effectively carry out the design and management of complex space systems, as well as to prepare students for further studies in the space engineering field. These objectives are pursued by providing a thorough education in the foundations of the space engineering sciences, with emphasis on research and the experimental methods.

Entering students should have a sound background in undergraduate mathematics, physics, and engineering science. The theoretical and scientific aspects of space engineering are treated in detail, with the aim of developing the capabilities necessary for the effective design and management of space vehicles and systems. The combination of knowledge and skills characterizing the graduate program in space engineering are:

  • a thorough knowledge of the theoretical and scientific aspects of the physical and mathematical disciplines and of the other fundamental sciences, together with the capability to use this knowledge to understand complex problems, or problems requiring an interdisciplinary approach;
  • a thorough knowledge of the theoretical and scientific aspects of engineering in general, and in more detail, space and astronautical engineering;
  • the capability to conceive, plan, design and manage complex and/or innovative systems, processes and services;
  • the capability of designing and managing complex experiments.

Research and course work in space engineering at the University of Pisa cover a very broad range of subjects. In working for their degree, space engineering students may pursue a major study in one of the following areas: space systems, space propulsion, space structures, aerothermodynamics, space flight dynamics and control. The choice of one of the these fields allows students to focus their activities, while taking advantage of the flexibility offered by the breadth of interests of the space group at DIA.

The MSSE program opens the way to further academic work as well as to professional activities in aerospace industry, in public and private research institutions in the aerospace field, in the Air Force, and in industrial companies for the production of machinery and equipment where the application of space-derived technologies is especially relevant. Finally, as a consequence of the multidisciplinary nature of the educational program, the space engineering graduates will also easily find employment in the mechanical industry, with specific reference to structural and fluid mechanic design work.



Higher education in Italy is largely subsidized by the government. This applies to both foreign and Italian students. Thanks to that, all students enrolled at the University of Pisa are only required to pay an annual enrollment fee (Tassa di iscrizione). The amount of the fee depends upon the country of origin of the student and can vary from of minimum of about 250 euros to a maximum of about € 2100. In most cases, foreign students pay tuition fees close to the minimum.

The MSSE scheme, which has been especially designed for the attendance of international students, complements the basic program of the Laurea Magistrale in Aerospace Engineering by offering to its participants a number of additional elements:

  • a comprehensive set of services specifically intended for international graduate students, which includes assistance for the following:
    • application and admission
    • immigration formalities (visas, residence permits, etc.)
    • first guidance for transportation, first accommodation, etc., upon arrival in Pisa
    • networking with European aerospace industry and/or research institutions for placements/thesis work
    • access to later doctoral programs in Pisa, Europe or elsewhere
    • career development in the European aerospace sector
    • extracurricular activities (sports, leisure, culture, tourism, travel, etc.)
  • the integration in the advanced research environment of Alta, a spin-off company of the University of Pisa, featuring a unique set of laboratories and facilities in Europe in advanced space propulsion and other space-related areas.



The student’s yearly budget for living and miscellaneous expenses is estimated to be:

  • Accommodation and utilities (single room per month): 12 x € 350 = € 4200
  • Board (365 x € 5 at the student dining facilities) = ~ € 1800
  • Books and supplies = ~ € 500
  • Health and dental = ~ € € 1000
  • Total = € 7500

The University maintains a listing of available rooms, apartments, and houses in Pisa.


Plan of Study

The academic year is divided into two semesters. Courses are taught over one or two semesters 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 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, 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 faculty. Students willing to follow a program different from the suggested one must have it approved by the Degree Program Council (Consiglio di Corso di Laurea) prior to registration for the second academic year of work toward the degree.

For the 2012/13 academic year the plan of study suggested by the University for the Space Engineering option is the following:

Year 1
Aerospace Structures 1st & 2nd semester 12 CFU
Aerospace Control Systems 1st & 2nd semester 12 CFU
Spaceflight Mechanics I 1st semester 6 CFU
Spaceflight Mechanics II 2nd semester 6 CFU
Electric Propulsion I 1st semester 6 CFU
Electric Propulsion II 2nd semester 6 CFU
Satellite Instrumentation 1st semester 6 CFU
Thermal Fluid Science 2nd semester 6 CFU
Year 2
Machine Design 1st & 2nd semester 12 CFU
Rocket Propulsion I 1st semester 6 CFU
Rocket Propulsion II 2nd semester 6 CFU
Space Systems I 1st semester 6 CFU
Space Systems II 2nd semester 6 CFU
Final Project 1st & 2nd semester 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 Council.

Thesis. The preparation and discussion of a final thesis with a substantial research content and distinctive originality is required. Each student is required to submit three copies of his or her thesis to the Chair of the Degree Program Council at least two weeks before the degree is to be conferred.

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 Dean of the Engineering Faculty (Preside della Facoltà di Ingegneria). 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 2011/12 academic year are briefly illustrated below together with the relevant information: name, lecture period (1st/2nd semesters), number of credits, description, instructor, prerequisites (if any), proficiency verification procedure.

Aerospace Control Systems. 12 CFU, 1st & 2nd semester. The course aims at letting the students acquire the required elements for the design of control systems of typical use in aircrafts and satellites. The techniques illustrated in the course include the analysis of linear systems by means of Laplace transforms and their design through several techniques in the frequency domain and in the time domain approaches. Early in the design phase the student will be introduced to the use of computer assisted design tools (using Matlab). Instructor: Giovanni Mengali. 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: Mariano Andrenucci. 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.

Machine Design. 12 CFU, 1st & 2nd semester. The course provides the students with the necessary skills for the design and manufacturing of machines and mechanical systems, and  for developing the pertinent modeling capabilities, also through the use of computer codes. The components of the machines are described and, in particular, the mechanical components for aviation and space applications, defining the principles and methodologies for their design. The course illustrates in detail the behavior of mechanical materials, the design for reliability, the design optimization and the integrated design. An overview of the main aspects of quality, safety, human-machine interaction, economic assessment, environmental compatibility, manufacturability and maintainability of mechanical systems is presented. Instructor: staff. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Discussion of the project assignment and oral exam.

Rocket Propulsion I. 1st semester, 6 CFU. Rocket propulsion fundamentals; operational and performance parameters; rocket propulsion systems and architecture; mission analysis and trajectories; propulsive requirements; chemical propellant rocket performance; solid propellant rockets; liquid propellant rockets; hybrid rockets; turbomachines for rocket propulsion applications; cavitating turbopumps; missiles; solid propellant missiles; liquid propellant missiles. Instructor: Luca d’Agostino. Prerequisites: Thermal-Fluid Sciences. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Rocket Propulsion II. 2nd semester, 6 CFU. More advanced topics in rocket propulsion: solid propellant combustion; combustion instabilities in solid propellant rockets; liquid propellant atomization and combustion; combustion instabilities in liquid propellant rockets; turbopump cavitation; propellant flow instabilities in liquid propellant rockets; combustion instabilities in hybrid propellant rockets. Instructor: Luca d’Agostino. Prerequisites: Rocket Propulsion I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Satellite Instrumentation. 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 I. 6 CFU, 1st semester. Celestial Mechanics. The two-bodies and n-bodies problems. Keplerian orbits, constants of motion, orbital elements. Basic astronomic geography. Reference systems, coordinate transformations and measurement of time. Flight time on Keplerian orbits. Orbital transfers. Impulsive maneuvers with one, two and three impulses, coplanar maneuvers, orbital plane changes. Launch window. Low thrust transfers. Gravity losses. Phasing maneuvers. In-orbit phasing. Relative equations for rendez-vous maneuvers. Linearized Hill equations. Instructor: Giovanni Mengali. Prerequisites: None. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Space Flight Mechanics II. 6 CFU, 2nd semester. Orbital perturbations, time derivatives of the orbital elements. Interplanetary trajectories, spheres of influence, method of matched conics. Attitude motion of rigid satellites, Euler angles and equations, spin stabilization and stability conditions. Stabilization of energy dissipating satellites. Spin velocity control by means of a yo-yo mechanism. Double spin stabilized satellites. Passive damping of nutation. Attitude dynamics of satellites with gravity gradient stabilization, solar pressure torque, or internal rotors. Active control of satellite attitude. Instructor: Giovanni Mengali. Prerequisites: Space Flight Mechanics I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Space Systems I. 1st semester, 6 CFU. The course gives an overview of current methods in mission analysis and design for space systems. The main ideas of dynamical systems and optimal control theories enabling derivation of non linear astrodynamics solutions are introduced. The general n-body dynamics are treated by decoupling the problem in simplified models spanning from the classical patched conic approach to perturbation techniques. Mainly, restricted three body models, with their inherent features, are presented together with optimization principles of non-Keplerian low thrust trajectories. Practical examples are discussed with reference to real mission applications. Instructor: Mariano Andrenucci. Prerequisites: Space Flight Mechanics I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam.

Space Systems II. 2nd semester, 6 CFU. The course illustrates the fundamental aspects of space system design and integration: operational requirements; technical specifications; design phases, from conception to the preliminary design phase, to detailed design; definition and modeling of the space system and of the main subsystems, with the relevant design methods and tools; integration methods; launch and system operation aspects, ground support, logistics and reliability. Practical examples are discussed with reference to geostationary telecommunication satellites, remote sensing applications, constellations and global positioning, interplanetary missions. Instructor: Salvo Marcuccio. Prerequisites: Space Systems I. Proficiency verification: Oral exam and team design project.

Thermal-Fluid Sciences. 2nd semester, 6 CFU. Thermodynamics; gas kinetics; thermochemistry; chemical kinetics; fluid dynamic equations; mass transfer; ideal flows; acoustics; 1D gas dynamics and hydrodynamics; shock and expansion waves; laminar viscous flows; fluid dynamic instability and turbulent transition; turbulent flows; heat transfer; two-phase flows and cavitation; chemically reacting flows and combustion. 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:

  • 1st period: October 1 – mid December
  • 2nd period: March 1 – 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.

The instructor has full responsibility for assigning grades to students enrolled in his course. If the student believes the grade is undeserved and is not happy with the explanations of the instructor, he/she can appeal to the Degree Program Council (Consiglio del Corso di Laurea), which will review the case and possibly indicate to the registrar to enter a new grade in the student’s transcript.

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.