My understanding of the term "mission design" is that it includes a variety of aspects of a mission, including features of a spacecraft and aspects of its trajectory; where it passes relative to celestial bodies and fields of plasma and dust and where it might land, as well as specific events like sampling and docking and deployment.

However the tag wiki excerpt says only:

Mission design is the process of designing a spacecraft to fulfill a particular objective.

and that conflicts with many/most of the 163 questions that has this tag that cover a wide range of mission design aspects. I've used it in questions about 28 times.

There is now a two year old(?) tag with 20 questions, and I've used it 6 times. I am going to propose that this tag be somehow nixed, as it overlaps one or both of and , is the newest, and has the fewest questions.

There is already a tag with 219 question and I've used it 16 times.


  1. Is the description of the mission design tag wrong?
  2. Is the trajectory design tag redundant and/or confusing and should somehow be nixed?
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ What you say agrees with my experience. Although in shuttle it was called "flight" instead of "mission" design, it was pretty much all about the trajectory. "flight" and "mission" were more or less synonyms. researchgate.net/publication/… $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2020 at 2:26

2 Answers 2


There is overlap between mission design and trajectory design as the latter is but one part of the former. I object to nixing either tag. Mission design is a broad category that includes trajectory design as one small part. Sensor selection has little to do with trajectory design but is a critical part of mission design.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure there's even an overlap, mission design and trajectory design are linked by delta-v and starts, but a mission design (particulaly for a secondary payload) may start from a "it will be in this orbit" specification $\endgroup$
    – JCRM
    Aug 9, 2023 at 10:50

Partial answer(s):

  1. Is the description of the mission design tag wrong?

It is incomplete based on text snippets below and @OrganicMarble's comment. It needs to be revised to better describe what mission design entails.

  1. Is the trajectory design tag redundant and/or confusing and should somehow be nixed?

I don't think it needs to be nixed; trajectory design is primarily implementing $F=ma$ based on certain limits of delta-v and/or spacecraft thrust/weight ratios. Most trajectory design questions here don't address the full array of mission design concerns, and tend to be exercises in orbital mechanical mathematics and use of software.

I think that both tags are useful and complementary.

But I don't know how well they have been applied in the past or how big the current loading of incorrect tagging is.

From Chapter 7 of Integrated Design for Space Transport Systems by B. N. Suresh & K. Sivan (also google books)

Mission design is the process of utilizing the available energy for realizing the defined orbital mission by devising suitable strategies of (1) directing the energy along the suitable path, (2) sequencing the energy addition process and (3) way of utilizing the energy by shaping the energy addition process.

screenshot from Chapter 7 of Integrated Design for Space Transport Systems

From Ames Mission Design Division:

Mission Design Tools and Capabilities The NASA Ames' Mission Design Center (MDC) provides concurrent engineering facilities and software for rapid mission development and analysis. The MDC is staffed by subject matter experts covering the domains required to fully develop successful spacecraft mission concepts. The MDC staff use and develop design tools supporting the full mission, including for example, orbit / trajectory design, thermal and electrical analyses, avionics and guidance, navigation and control design, development of operations concepts, and costing. The MDC facilities and staff conduct scheduled and rapid-response design cycles to develop initial mission concepts into proposal-ready, fully supportable technical packages.

From ESA's Multimedia 4: Mission design:

Satellites designed to work in unknown hostile environments are the ultimate example of ‘form follows function’: no two missions are alike.

Any initial idea needs fleshing out through the setting of solid requirements: what are all the needs of the mission to best achieve its set goal? Where will it be going in space? What instrumentation payload will it require, how much onboard power is needed and how will its results be returned to Earth?

Experts must analyse every moment of a mission’s planned journey, from understanding its destination (A comet? An asteroid? A planet?) or fixed orbit (Low-Earth orbit? Geostationary orbit? Or out into deep space?) and selecting its launch vehicle and fixing its precise lift-off time to mapping out all its planned manoeuvres. This all provides vital data for the actual design of the spacecraft and also for the mission control systems and stations on the ground.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Just because the community bot has bumped this (for not having an answer accepted, presumably), the ESA reference most closely matches what I think of as "mission design," particularly by what is encompassed in SMAD (Spacecraft Mission Analaysis and Design, my go-to text for designing space missions ever since our capstone mission design course in school) $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Mar 9, 2023 at 7:50

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