Which books, journals, articles, or electronic resources are considered a must-read by scientists, engineers, etc., involved in development and design of space missions?

I'm looking for the so-called "literary canon" of space missions; The ones most praiseworthy for expanding one's knowledge on space exploration.


6 Answers 6


Reference books:

  • Space Mission Analysis and Design. W. J. Larson and J. R. Wertz (Editors). Microcosm Press, 1999.

  • Space Mission Engineering: The New SMAD. James R. Wertz (Editor).

  • Space Vehicle Dynamics and Control. Bong Wie. AIAA, 1998.

  • Spacecraft Thermal Control Handbook: Vol.1 Fundamental Technologies. David G. Gilmore (ed.) AIAA, 2002.

  • Space Systems Failures. Harland, Shayler, Lorenz. 2005.

  • Space Debris: Models and Risk Analysis. Heinrich Klinkrad. 2006.

  • Orbit and Constellation Design and Management. J.R. Wertz. Microcosm, 2001.

  • Spacecraft-Environment Interactions. Daniel Hastings & Henry Garrett. Cambridge Univ.Press, 1996.

  • Hypersonic aerothermodynamics. John J. Bertin. AIAA, 1994.

  • Modeling and Simulation of Aerospace Vehicle Dynamics. (2nd ed.). Peter H. Zipfel. AIAA, 2007.

  • Deep Space Flight and Communications: Exploiting the Sun as a Gravitational Lens. Claudio Maccone. Springer, 2009.

  • Modern Engineering for Design of Liquid-Propellant Rocket Engines. Dieter K. Huzel and David H. Huang. AIAA, 1992.

  • Coming Home: Reentry and Recovery from Space. Roger D. Launius, Dennis R. Jenkins, NASA
    Free download in EPUB / MOBI / PDF formats via NASA e-Books page

  • Introduction to Astrodynamic Reentry. Lt.-Col. Kerry D. Hicks, 2009. (Free PDF online).

  • Mechanics and Thermodynamics of Propulsion. P. Hill, C. Peterson. Addison-Wesley, 1992

  • Rocket Propulsion Elements, 7th Ed.. G.P. Sutton & O. Biblarz. John Wiley & Sons, 2001
    Free PDF from MIT, albeit with many drawings cut away - it's better to read the 4th ed. as well

  • Liquid rocket combustion instability. NASA, 1972. SP-194. Harrje D.T., Reardon F.H.

  • Liquid rocket engine combustion instability. Progress in Aeronautics and Astronautics, vol. 169. AIAA; 1995. Yang V., Anderson W. (eds.)

  • Dynamical Systems, the Three-Body Problem and Space Mission Design, Koon, Lo, Marsden & Ross, 2006
    Free PDF from Caltech

  • Statistical Orbit Determination. B.D. Tapley, B.E. Schutz, G.H. Born. New York, Elsevier, 2004.

  • Spacecraft Operations. Thomas Uhlig, Florian Sellmaier, Michael Schmidhuber. Springer, 2014. ISBN 9783709118023

  • Deep Space Optical Communications. Ed.by Hamid Hemmati. JPL, 2005. Available online

  • Handbook for limiting orbital debris. NASA, 2008 (expired in 2013). Still Online.

  • Libration Point Orbits and Applications. J.Masdemont. 2003.

  • Fundamentals of Electric Propulsion: Ion and Hall Thrusters. Dan M. Goebel, Ira Katz. Free PDF from NASA

  • Principles of Space Instrument Design. A. M. Cruise, T. J. Patrick, J. A. Bowles, C. V. Goodall. Cambridge Univ.Press, 1998. ISBN 9780521451642.

  • Deep Space Telecommunications Systems Engineering. Joseph H. Yuen (Ed.), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 1982, (JPL Publication 82-76) Online

  • LEO on the Cheap: Methods for Achieving Drastic Reductions in Space Launch Costs. John R. London III, Lt Col, USAF. Research Report No. AU-ARI-93-8, Air University Press, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, October 1994. Free and Available here.

  • Orbital Mechanics for Engineering Students by Howard Curtis. Rentable as an ebook, purchasable in all formats

  • An Introduction to Rocket Missile Propulsion Rocketdyne Technical Training publication that covers basic rocket equations in a simplified manner. Annoying page-at-a-time viewer but a valuable resource.

  • Glossary of Terms Used in Chemical Propulsion Systems Defines most commonly used words used in discussing chemical rocket systems.

Manned exploration references, just in case someone needs them:

Model and amateur rocketry (someone's got to start somewhere!):

  • How to Design, Build and Test Small Liquid-Fueled Rocket Engines, Leroy J. Krzycki, Rocketlab / China Lake, CA., 1967
    Online source


  • AIAA Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics
  • AIAA Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets
  • Icarus
  • Journal of the Astronautical Sciences
  • Planetary and Space Science
  • Acta Astronautica

History books and collections:
Nonfiction and activity space books for children:
  • (age 4-8) Brian Floc: Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 (48 pages)

  • (age 5-7) Martha E. H. Rustad: The Exploring Space (6 x 24 pages)

  • Linda McReynolds: Eight Days Gone (48 pages, 2012) ISBN 9781580893640.

  • (age 7-11) Raman Prinja: Universe Rocks (4 x 32 pages, 2012) ISBN 9781848359345.

  • Elise Gravel: Blast off with Doodle Tom (96 pages)

  • (age 8-10) Heinemann-Raintree (publisher): Astronaut Travel Guides (8 x 48 pages)

  • (age 9+) Mark Brake, Nishant Choksi: Really, Really Big Questions about Space and Time (64 pages)

  • (age 9-13) Don Nardo: Destined for Space (64 pages)

  • (age 9-13) Enslow Publishers: The American Space Missions—Astronauts, Exploration, and Discovery (6 x 48 pages)

  • (age 10+) Ian Graham: 3D Explorer: Solar System (32 pages pop-up)

  • (age 10-13) Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano, Michael Carroll: A Black Hole Is Not a Hole (48 pages)

  • (age 10+) Clive Gifford: Out of This World: All the Cool Bits About Space (128 pages)

  • (age 10+) Pamela Dell: Man on the Moon: How a Photograph Made Anything Seem Possible (64 pages)

  • Kristen McCurry, Mat Edwards: How to Draw Amazing Airplanes and Spacecraft (64 pages)

  • (age 11+) Eve Hartman, Wendy Meshbesher: Mission to Mars (56 pages)

  • Review of children's space-themed books by Emily Lakdawalla

Interdisciplinary books:
  • Harry McSween and Gary Huss, Cosmochemistry
  • Paul Schenk, Atlas of the Galilean Satellites
  • N.N.Greenwood and A. Earnshaw, Chemistry of the Elements, (1ed., Pergamon, 1984), (2ed., Butterworth-Heinemann, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7506-3365-9)

Design reference missions:

To be determined

Mirrored at GitHub.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you have another link for Rocket Propulsion Elements, 7th Ed.. G.P. Sutton & O. Biblarz. John Wiley & Sons, 2001? The MIT link is dead. $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2015 at 21:48
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @T.J.Tarazevits - looked up at Web Archive, fixed the linky. $\endgroup$ Jul 1, 2015 at 9:46
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Not being a book it doesn't seem to fit directly in the existing structure but the JPL Basics of Spaceflight is a good resource: www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics/index.php $\endgroup$
    – 1337joe
    Aug 5, 2015 at 19:01

The list of (historical and current) launch vehicle user manuals

An infographic from Randall Munroe (XKCD), click for a large version:

Copyright XKCD


This stuff is more focused on earth centered orbits then interplanetary, but the math is the same.

Fundamentals of Astrodynamics by Bate Mueller & White is a great introductory to intermediate level text at a very good price.

I think probably most people working in the field have a copy of "BMW" on their bookshelf. They're coming out with a new edition this fall, more then 40 years after the original - mine is already on order.

Another good one is Methods of Orbit Determination by Escobal - I particularly like to treatment of coordinate systems.

Spacetrack Report Number 3 by Hoots and Roehrich is the foundational work on General Perturbations theory used in the SGP4 propagator for TLE (Two Line Element) data.


Propellants - fuels and oxidizers

  • Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants. John D. Clark, 1972. Available in pdf.
  • Safety Standard for Oxygen and Oxygen Systems. NASA, 1996. Available in pdf.

Online courses and textbooks (free of charge)

  1. NASA Basics of Space Flight
  2. Khan Academy
  3. The Physics Hypertextbook
  4. Bookboon's Engineering section
  5. Engineering Mathematics: YouTube Workbook
  6. Alison Foundation Diploma in Mathematics - Science, Technology and Engineering

NASA Space Vehicle Design Criteria (Chemical Propulsion) series

A series of monographs from the 1970s covering many aspects of rocket propulsion system design. (There may be other entries in the series that I have not located.) All are .pdfs from NASA NTRS.

  • NASA SP-8025 Solid Rocket Motor Metal Cases

  • NASA SP-8041 Captive-fired Testing of Solid Rocket Motors

  • NASA SP-8051 Solid Rocket Motor Igniters

  • NASA SP-8052 Liquid Rocket Engine Turbopump Inducers

  • NASA SP-8080 Liquid Rocket Pressure Regulators, Relief Valves, Check Valves, Burst Disks, and Explosive Valves

  • NASA SP-8081 Liquid Propellant Gas Generators

  • NASA SP-8087 Liquid Rocket Engine Fluid-cooled Combustion Chambers

  • NASA SP-8088 Liquid Rocket Metal Tanks and Tank Components

  • NASA SP-8089 Liquid Rocket Engine Injectors

  • NASA SP-8094 Liquid Rocket Valve Components

  • NASA SP-8097 Liquid Rocket Valve Assemblies

  • NASA SP-8100 Liquid Rocket Engine Turbopump Gears

  • NASA SP-8101 Liquid Rocket Engine Turbopump Shafts and Couplings

  • NASA SP-8107 Turbopump Systems for Liquid Rocket Engines

  • NASA SP-8109 Liquid Rocket Engine Centrifugal Flow Turbopumps

  • NASA SP-8110 Liquid Rocket Engine Turbines

  • NASA SP-8112 Pressurization Systems for Liquid Rockets

  • NASA SP-8113 Liquid Rocket Engine Combustion Stabilization Devices

  • NASA SP-8115 Solid Rocket Motor Nozzles

  • NASA SP-8119 Liquid Rocket Disconnects, Couplings, Fittings, Fixed Joints, and Seals

  • NASA SP-8120 Liquid Rocket Engine Nozzles

  • NASA SP-8121 Liquid Rocket Engine Turbopump Rotating-shaft Seals

  • NASA SP-8123 Liquid Rocket Lines, Bellows, Flexible Hoses, and Filters

  • NASA SP-8121 Liquid Rocket Engine Axial-flow Turbopumps

  • NASA SP-8126 Glossary of Terms and Table of Conversion Factors used in Design of Chemical Propulsion Systems


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