Basics of Spaceflight: Editorial Page

This document was first prepared in 1993 by Dave Doody and George Stephan of JPL's Mission Operations Section in association with the Section's Training Working Group. The 21st Century Edition was written by Dave Doody with Diane Fisher's editorial and technical expertise. Dave is the author of the 2017 Edition. Minor updates continue to be published every few months, or more frequently if readers report needed corrections. The latest update was made in March 2022.

If you have a question or comment about any of the content in this document, you may send email to Dave Doody (use the above link). Dave is currently the Realtime Flight Operations Lead engineer for the Cassini/Huygens Mission.

What is JPL? The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a Federally Funded Research and Development facility operated for NASA, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, by Caltech, the California Institute of Technology. Here's a downloadable PDF-format brochure, called JPL-101, that describes JPL from a historical perspective.

The 2017 Edition

In addition to scrubbing the textual content and managing the links, an entire update was made during 2016, completed and released in February 2017. This 2017 Edition is based on direction from Blaine Baggett, director of JPL's Office of Communications and Education, and managed by Alice Wessen, Manager of JPL's Public Engagement Office. JPL Web Producer Phil Davis implemented the edition online.

The 2017 Edition follows the JPL style guidelines created specifically for the edition by Harman Smith of Raytheon, and it contains new and re-envisioned graphics created by artist Richard Barkus of JPL's Solar System & Technology Public Engagement Office. Enrico Piazza, JPL's energetic outreach enthusiast in JPL's Solar System & Technology Public Engagement Office led the editorial work for this edition. Richard and Enrico worked closely with the author, who takes responsibility for any mistakes that might have slipped through.The current edition also includes an improved chapter on Navigation (Chapter 13), thanks to contributions and edits by Jonathon Smith, of JPL's Mission Design and Navigation Section, and a reference trajectory image and animation made by Brent Buffington, of the same organization.

The Section-III banner shows the late Robert Springfield, a Cassini Mission Controller on console in the Cassini Mission Support and Services Office Flight Operations area at JPL. More on Cassini Flight Operations here.

The 21st Century Edition (February 2001)

Much of the text from the original 1993 Basics of Space Flight online version was retained during the major re-write in February 2001. It was augmented and edited to improve clarity and simplicity, with the intention of keeping focused on "what's the point here?" Additional material was added to reflect the current and planned sets of interplanetary missions, as well as some Earth-orbiting missions. The graphics were updated and reworked to enhance clarity, and some animated .gif files were added.

The world-wide-web was in its infancy when Diane Fisher first took the initiative to put The Basics of Space Flight out there. Today the web is well populated with resources, to say the least. Just about everyone, from people who create scientific instruments flying on spacecraft, to launch vehicle manufacturers, have their own website. This edition is highly connected, to take advantage of some very good external sites. Good links, and the document's animated diagrams, make it much more informative as a web document than it was in paper. Oh, and speaking of links...

Link Disclaimer:

Throughout this site there are links to various other websites whose content we do not control, and for which we cannot be responsible. Nor does any link serve as an endorsement of any kind. We provide links, and try to maintain them, as a convenience only.

Broken Links?

Of course, all those links pose a problem: they are subject to breakage. We've tried to select links less likely to break, but break they will. Please let us know when you find a broken link (email Dave). Your input will be much appreciated. Other minor corrections, changes and additions will be made to the document on an irregular basis.

Efforts have been made to retain hyperlink anchor name points from the original 1993 online version to avoid breaking links from external websites, however it may not have been possible to avoid breaking some. One drawback to having preserved incoming links is that there is now a wide variation among the lengths of pages, and in the number of pages per chapter.

Treating "Data" as if it were a Singular Noun

We do realize the Latin "data" is really the plural of "datum," one single point of data. In this document, though, we're going to boldly waive the laws of grammar for this word only, and treat "data" as if it were singular. Just as with "sugar," there are lots of little bits. This approach releases us from having to wield awkward sentences to treat it as plural. In this document, data is a substance. It flows through pipelines and processors.


For the 2017 Edition, thanks are due to Cassini Program Manager Earl Maize, who tolerated the author's occasional distraction from realtime flight operations while he worked with Enrico, Richard, Harman, et al.

The 2013 update was handled by Jonathan Castello under Dave's guidance.

John Bercovitz of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory kindly located many needed corrections on his own accord, and these were worked into the 2004 uodates. Thanks to Dr. Robert B. Giffen (BGen, USAF, retired), Professor Emeritus, USAF Academy and Chief Operating Officer of Teaching Science and Technology, Inc. for information about his book, Understanding Space, An Introduction to Astronautics and for interest in referring students to Basics of Space Flight. Thanks to Cassini Ace John Ibañez for troubleshooting script problems that appeared in 2004.

The major re-write "21st Century Edition" was undertaken starting in 2000 by Dave Doody and Diane Fisher. Diane created most of the animated images, and performed technical editing of the entire document.

Thanks to Susan Watanabe and Mary Beth Murrill of Media Relations for their reviews and advice pertaining to the 21st Century Edition. Thanks also to Susan Kurtik for funding, to Ben Toyoshima for guidance, to Gerardo Rivera and Robert Antonio for the quiz scoring engine, and to Eric Tauer for web technical advice and for delivering the nice animation handling script in a timely manner. Thanks to Bill Kurth for help with information about the heliosphere, to Jeremy Jones for reviewing navigation issues, and to Troy Goodson, Duane Roth, Jonathon Smith and Brent Buffington for their illuminating input on navigation. Thanks to Steve Edberg for help with things astronomical, Laura Sakamoto, Steve Slobin, and Robert Sniffin for expertise with telecommunications and DSN topics, to Betsy Wilson for lots of help with the telemetry section, and to Trina Ray for enthusiastically reviewing Radio Science and DSN stuff. Thanks to Greg Chin, manager of the Cassini Mission Support & Services Office, who granted the author freedom to work on this edition during a busy Jupiter flyby period for the Cassini Mission to Saturn, and to continue keeping it current as the Cassini Saturn Tour progresses.

For the original 1993 version, Diane Fisher provided technical editing and illustration, and took the initiative to publish it on the fledgling world-wide web. Cozette Parker assisted with the initial hardcopy publication. Brad Compton kindly tolerated the author's preoccupation with this project during Magellan's demanding mission at Venus. Special thanks to the original reviewers Ben Toyoshima, Larry Palkovic, Carol Scott, Rob Smith, Dan Lyons, and Bob Molloy, and to field testers Kathy Golden, Steve Annan, Linda Lee, and Paul Porter for their valuable comments. Thanks to Roy Bishop (Physics Department, Acadia University, and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) for his independent review.

From 1995 through 1997, The Planetary Society published Dave Doody's regular column, "Basics of Space Flight" which drew and embellished on the original version of this document. Some of those articles still appear on the "The Planetary Society's website. Aspects of this material were incorporated in the 21st Century Edition.

JPL document number, publication clearance numbers, title, and author, are as follows (release date is shown at the top of this page):

JPL D-20120, CL-03-0371, CL-11-1594 (PDF), and CL-15-3027 for Chapter 13, which was the first of several chapter updates that are being given separate clearances for unlimited release.

Basics of Space Flight: David Doody

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