Michael Swartwout, Ph.D.

Department Chair of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering


Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University
M.S. in Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Interests

Swartwout’s primary research work is performed through the Space Systems Research Laboratory. Design and operation of low-cost spacecraft - Swartwout is particularly interested in the ways that universities can leverage their very high tolerance for risk to introduce new technologies and architectures that will improve the “professional” space industry. The best recent example of this is the CubeSat standard, developed by Profs. Twiggs (then at Stanford) and Puig-Suari (Cal-Poly), where more than 50 CubeSats were launched in the first six years - a blink of the eye in aerospace time. His interests are in identifying technologies, yes, but also understanding why certain ideas catch on and others don’t. Space situational awareness - SSA is the ability to define and (very importantly) predict the space environment. SSA includes both the natural space environment (radiation, electromagnetic activity, the trace atmosphere) and man-made (both active spacecraft and debris). Dr. Swartwout’s particular interest is in detecting, characterizing and observing nearby spacecraft. Space history, space logistics, and space mission failures - While those topics appear to have very little in common (other than the word “space”), the three are tightly intertwined: the success and failure of past space missions (and especially the reasons for those failures) have a direct effect on the logistics of modern space missions (i.e., the organizations involved in space and the manner in which spacecraft are designed, tested, launched and operated). Some speak of the “cost and risk death spiral” of modern space missions, where expensive spacecraft cannot be allowed to fail, which means additional time and money is spent on redundancies, analysis and testing, which means they are even more expensive, which makes it even more necessary to eliminate failure, which means additional time and money on redundancies, analysis, and testing … he’s interested in spiraling the other direction, where we build missions so inexpensively that we can fly more of them, and can afford to let one or two fail. This isn’t a matter of just spending less money, but of carefully defining missions, risk and the way in which one will approach the design process.

Labs and Facilities

The Space Systems Research Laboratory is a facility for conducting fundamental research and flight demonstrations related to the design, fabrication, testing and operation of space vehicles. A major objective of the laboratory is to improve the performance and reduce the cost of space systems, expressed in four related research topics: Design and Operation of Nano and Pico Spacecraft; Space Situational Awareness (SSA); Spacecraft Technologies; and Space History, Logistics and Mission Failures.

Publications and Media Placements

Printed Archival Peer-Reviewed Journals
Swartwout, M.A., “Perspectives in Critical Research Areas in Space Systems”, Journal of Aviation and Aerospace Perspectives 1(1), 2011.

Online Peer-Reviewed Journals
Swartwout, M.A.,”The First One Hundred CubeSats: A Statistical Look”, Journal of Small Satellites, Vol. 02, Issue 02 (Dec 2013) pp. 213-233.

Peer-Reviewed Conference Papers
Swartwout, M. A., Jayaram, S. (2013). “An Introductory Course in Practical Systems Engineering”. 120th ASEE Annual Conference, Atlanta, GA, 25 June 2013. Paper 6816.

Swartwout, M. A. (2013). “Cheaper by the Dozen: The Avalanche of Rideshares in the 21st Century”. 2013 IEEE Aerospace Conference. Big Sky, MT, March 2013. doi: 10.1109/AERO.2013.6497182

Swartwout, M. A., Jayaram, S. “Spacecraft Integration and Test: An Undergraduate course in Systems Engineering Practice”, ASEE Annual Conference, San Antonio, TX, June 2012. http://www.asee.org/public/conferences/8/papers/3199/download

Swartwout, M. A., Reed, R., Jayaram, S., Weller, R., “Argus: A Flight Campaign for Modeling the Effects of Space Radiation on Modern Electronics”, 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, 4-10 March 2012, paper 1221. doi: 10.1109/AERO.2012.6187028

Swartwout, M. A., “A Statistical Survey of Rideshares (and Attack of the CubeSats, Part Deux)”, 2012 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, 4-10 March 2012, paper 1220. doi: 10.1109/AERO.2012.6187008

Swartwout, M. A., “A brief history of rideshares,” 2011 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT, 5-12 March 2011, paper 1518. doi: 10.1109/AERO.2011.5747233 In Proceedings Swartwout, M. A., “Argus: Radiation Effects Modeling on a University Nanosat”, 26th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, UT, 15 August 2012, Paper SSC12-VII-05. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/smallsat/2012/all2012/59/

Swartwout, M. A., “Attack of the CubeSats: a statistical look”, 25th Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, UT, 9 August 2011, Paper SSC11-XI-04.

Swartwout, M. A., “The Promise of Innovation From University Space Systems: Are We Meeting It?”, 23rd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, 13 August 2009, paper SSC09-XII-3.

Professional Organizations and Associations

 Swartwout is a Senior Member of AIAA, and member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and Tau Beta Pi. He is SLU’s representative to the Missouri Space Grant Consortium, and one of SLU’s KEEN iFaculty fellows.

Community Work

Michael Swartwout, Ph. D., joined the Saint Louis University faculty as of 2009 as an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Parks. He worked at Washington University in Saint Louis previously from 2000 to 2009. His teaching is concentrated in three areas: design, dynamics/control and space systems. As a student, he was involved with many student-built space missions, most notably Sapphire (launched in 2001). Now, as co-director of Parks’ Space Systems Research Laboratory, Swartwout trains SLU students to launch their own spacecraft: SLU-01/COPPER (launching in late 2013), SLU-02/Argus (2014) and SLU-03/Rascal (2015).