John E. Prussing

Professor Emeritus of Aerospace Engineering

319a Talbot Lab     (Directions to Talbot Lab)
(217) 333-8231

330 Talbot Lab, MC-236
104 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801-2935

Department of Aerospace Engineering (AE)
Interesting Links

ScD, Instrumentation , Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 1967

SM, Aeronautics and Astronautics (Honors Course ), MIT, 1963

SB, Aeronautics and Astronautics (Honors Course), MIT, 1963

Professor Emeritus, Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), 2007–present

Professor, Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), 2003–2007

Professor, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), 1981–2003.

Assistant Dean (half-time), College of Engineering, UIUC, 1976–77.

Associate Professor, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, UIUC, 1972–81.

Assistant Professor, Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering, UIUC, 1969–72.
Assistant Research Engineer and Lecturer, University of California at San Diego, 1967–69.

Research Interests



Optimal spacecraft trajectories:

The study of optimal (minimum-propellant) spacecraft trajectories is an important research area in the general field of astrodynamics. Each kilogram of propellant saved by optimizing the trajectory results in an additional kilogram (or more) of payload delivered to the final destination. The trajectory being optimized may represent an orbital rendezvous or interception, or an orbit transfer.

There are two basic types of spacecraft propulsion systems: high thrust and low thrust. In high-thrust systems the engine operates only during very brief time intervals. In this case the thrusts can be approximated by impulses. The times and directions of these thrust impulses can be determined so that propellant consumption is minimized and the desired final orbit conditions are satisfied.

In low-thrust systems the engine is either on continuously or switches on and off for long time intervals, depending on whether the propulsion system is constant specific impulse (CSI) or variable specific impulse (VSI), sometimes called power limited (PL). In the CSI case the continuously-varying thrust direction and the on-off switching times can be determined. In the VSI case the continuously-varying thrust direction and magnitude can be determined to minimize the propellant consumption and satisfy the desired final orbit conditions.

Research interests include:

Earth escape using a solar sail (funded by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory )

Applications of second-order necessary conditions and sufficient conditions in optimal control problems

Investigation of a closed-form optimal VSI thrust program for a spacecraft trajectory in an arbitrary gravitational field

Optimal cooperative rendezvous

Geocentric and heliocentric applications of solar sails

At a Glance
Professor Prussing taught the following UIUC courses:


AE 100 Intro Aerospace Engineering(formerly AE 199) Course Web Page
AE 201 Aerospace Systems Principles Web Page for Spaceflight Segment
AE 302 Aerospace Flight Mechanics Web Page


AE 402 Orbital Mechanics Course Web Page
AE 403 Spacecraft Attitude Control Course Web Page


AE 504 Optimal Aerospace Systems Course Web Page
AE 508 Optimal Space Trajectories Course Web Page

Prof. Prussing and Prof. B. A. Conway, of the AE Department are co-authors of the textbook for AE 402, Orbital Mechanics published by Oxford University Press. The First Edition is owned by 293 public and university libraries worldwide in 44 states of the U.S., 9 provinces of Canada, and in Australia (9), China, France, Germany (8), Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom (14).

A Second and expanded edition was published in 2013. It is owned by public and university libraries in the U.S. and Canada, and in New Zealand, Taiwan, Turkey, and the U.K.

Books that cite Prussing & Conway Orbital Mechanics, First Edition

The most recent Errata for the First Edition exists as a PDF file Errata.1ed.pdf . The most recent Errata for the Second Edition is at Errata.2ed.pdf .

For more information on the First Edition see the detailed Table of Contents and the Preface. Also shows selected pages and reviews.
For more information on the Second Edition see the detailed Table of Contents and the Preface. Also shows selected pages and reviews.

Professor Prussing has published over 50 archival research articles in 13 different technical journals These articles are referenced in 62 different journals in English and also in journals in Russian, Chinese, French, and Portuguese.

He has presented a two-day short course "Optimal Orbital Maneuvers" three times:

AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Conference in Stowe,Vermont, 1989
NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center/Analex Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio , 1989
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 2002

Here is an administrative biosketch for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)

Honors and Awards:

Elected Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) "for outstanding contributions to astrodynamics research and education, and for service to the aerospace community." (1994)

Elected Fellow of the American Astronautical Society (AAS) "for contributions that have made a significant impact on the fields of space flight mechanics and astronautics." (1997)

Received the Mechanics and Control Award of the AIAA "For an outstanding contribution to the theory and computation of optimal spacecraft trajectories by developing a practical, necessary and sufficient condition test for optimality." (2002)

Received the Dirk Brouwer Award of the AAS "For exceptionally significant contributions to the literature of orbital mechanics, particularly in research in optimal spacecraft trajectories." (1994)

Best Paper Award of the AAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, Feb. 1998, Monterey, California

Associate Editor of the AIAA Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics 1989–92

Chair of the AIAA Astrodynamics Technical Committee 1982–84; Member 77–80, 81–84, 87–90

Member of the AAS Space Flight Mechanics Committee 1980–96

Member of Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Honorary Society

Member of Sigma Gamma Tau, Aerospace Engineering Honorary Society

Member of The Order of the Engineer

Finalist 2 times for the UIUC Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

Named 23 semesters on A List of Teachers Ranked as Excellent by Their Students, most recently for Spring 2010 (AE 508), Spring 2009 (AE 403), Spring 2008 (AE 508), and Fall 2007 (AE 402).

Voted AE Department Teacher of the Year 5 times by the students

Received Engineering Council (Accenture) Award for Excellence in Advising 15 times 1989–2008, as voted by the students.

Books, Chapters in Books, Monographs, Book Reviews
Optimal Spacecraft Trajectories by John E. Prussing, Oxford University Press, 2018. An Errata file is at Errata.OST.pdf

Optimal Control with Aerospace Applications by James M. Longuski, Jose' J. Guzman, and John E. Prussing, Springer USA and Microcosm Press, 2013. It is owned by 211 university and public libraries worldwide, including Australia, Belgium, Canada (8 provinces), Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Qatar, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.

"Primer Vector Theory and Applications", Chapter 2 in Spacecraft Trajectory Optimization (B.A. Conway, editor) Cambridge University Press, 2010. It is owned by 347 university and public libraries wordwide, including Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Namibia, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.

Orbital Mechanics by John E. Prussing and Bruce A. Conway, Oxford University Press, 1993, Second Edition 2012 (See above for details and errata.)

Optimal Orbital Maneuvers, AIAA Professional Study Series, 1989.

"Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion ", Encyclopedia of Physics, 3rd Edition, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1990.

Prussing's doctoral thesis Optimal Multiple-Impulse Orbital Rendezvous.

Published Book Reviews

Technical Reviews

Selected Journal Articles
Prussing, J.E., "Simplified Conjugate Point Procedure", Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics,, Vol. 40, No. 5, May 2017, pp. 1255–1257.

Prussing, J. E., and Sandrik, S. L., "Second-Order Necessary Conditions and Sufficient Conditions Applied to Continuous-Thrust Trajectories", Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, Vol. 28, No. 4, Jul–Aug 2005.
[Also Presented as Paper AIAA 2002-4726, AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialists Conference, Monterey, CA, August 2002.]

"Optimal Two- and Three-Impulse Fixed-Time Rendezvous in the Vicinity of a Circular Orbit", Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, Vol. 40, No. 6, Nov–Dec 2003, pp. 952–959 [ Reprinted from AIAA Journal, Vol. 8, No. 7, 1970 as part of an Historical Celebration.]

Coverstone, V. L. and Prussing, J. E., " Technique for Earth Escape from Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit Using a Solar Sail," Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics , Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 628–634, Jul–Aug 2003.
See related UIUC News Bureau news article and Science Daily news article
[Presented at the AAS/AIAA Astrodynamics Specialist Conference, Girdwood, AK, August 1999, Paper No. AAS 99–333. Also appears in Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 103, Part I, pp. 523–537, Eds. K. C. Howell et al, Univelt Inc., San Diego, CA].

" A Class of Optimal Two-Impulse Rendezvous Using Multiple-Revolution Lambert Solutions, " The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences , Vol. 48, Nos. 2 and 3, Apr–Sep 2000 , pp. 131–148.
Also appears in Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 106, pp. 17–39, Eds. J.L. Junkins et al, Univelt Inc., San Diego, CA.
[Presented at The Richard H. Battin Astrodynamics Symposium, College Station, TX, March 2000, Paper No. AAS 00–250.]

Jo, J-W., and Prussing, J. E., " Procedure for Applying Second-Order Conditions in Optimal Control Problems, " Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics Vol. 23, No. 2, Mar–Apr 2000, pp. 241–250.
[This journal article is a condensed version of two conference papers presented at the 8th AAS/AIAA Space Flight Mechanics Meeting, Monterey, CA, Feb. 1998, Paper Nos. AAS 98–163 and 98–164. Paper No. AAS 98–163 received the Best Paper Award for the conference.]
[The conference papers appear in Advances in the Astronautical Sciences Vol. 99, Part II, pp. 865–881 and 883–905, Eds. J. W. Middour et al, Univelt Inc., San Diego, CA]

Prussing, J. E., and Coverstone-Carroll, V., " Constant Radial Thrust Acceleration Redux," Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, Vol. 21, No. 3, May–Jun 1998, pp. 516–518.
[Presented at the AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialists Conference, Boston, MA, Aug. 1998, Paper No. AIAA 98–4545.]

Coverstone-Carroll, V., and Prussing, J. E.,"Optimal Cooperative Power-Limited Rendezvous with Propellant Constraints," The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 43, No. 3, Jul–Sep 1995, pp. 289–305.
[Presented as Paper No. AIAA 92–4508, AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Conference, Hilton Head, SC, August 1992.]

"Optimal Impulsive Linear Systems: Sufficient Conditions and Maximum Number of Impulses," The Journal of the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 43, No. 2, Apr–Jun 1995, pp. 195–206.
[Presented as Paper No. 94–174, AIAA/AAS Spaceflight Mechanics Meeting, Cocoa Beach, FL, February 1994.]

Prussing, J. E., and Chiu, J-H., " Optimal Multiple Impulse Time-Fixed Rendezvous Between Circular Orbits," Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics, Vol. 9, No. 1, Jan–Feb 1986, pp. 17–22, (also Errata, Vol. 9, No. 2, p. 255). [also appears in Russian translation in Aerokosmichekaya Techanika , No. 8, 1986, pp. 135–142 (U.S.S.R).]
[Presented as Paper No. 84–2036, AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Conference, Seattle, WA, August 1984.]

All Journal Articles

UIUC Engineering Hall

Graduate Students

Professor Prussing has been thesis advisor for 33 M.S. students and 9 Ph.D. students.

Ph.D. Degrees, Thesis Title, and Student Placement, Current Position

9. Suzannah L. Sandrik, "Primer-Optimized Results and Trends for Circular Phasing and Other Circle-To-Circle Impulsive Coplanar Rendezvous " (2006), Associate Faculty Associate in Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin at Madison.

8. Jang-Won Jo, " Applications of Second-Order Necessary and Sufficient Conditions to Optimal Trajectories " (1997), Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense.

7. Victoria Coverstone-Carroll , " Optimal Cooperative Power-Limited Rendezvous " (1992), Engineering Faculty, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently, Professor of Aerospace Engineering & Associate Dean of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

6. Der-Ren Taur, " Optimal Multiple-Impulse Rendezvous and Interception with Path Constraints " (1989), Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST),Taiwan, R.O.C.

5. William G. Heckathorn. " Optimal Multiple-Impulse Direct-Ascent Time-Fixed Interception " (1985), U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB. Currently, Colonel U.S. Air Force (Ret)

4. Jeng-Hua Chiu. " Optimal Multiple-Impulse Nonlinear Orbital Rendezvous " (1984), Colonel R.O.C. Air Force, Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST), Taiwan, R.O.C.

3. Steven J. Hoffman, " An Optimization Method for the Preliminary Design of Interplanetary Aerobraking Missions " (1984), Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), Schaumburg,IL. Currently, SAIC, Houston,TX.

2. Ting-Nung Shiau, " Rotor Blade Flap-Lag Stability and Response in Forward Flight in Turbulent Flows " (1984), Faculty, Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, R.O.C. Currently, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, R.O.C.

1. Larry R. Gross, " Optimal Multiple-Impulse Direct-Ascent Rendezvous " (1972), U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB.

M.S. Degrees, Thesis Title, and Student Placement (1993–Present)

34. Kaushik Ponnapalli " Optimal Variable-Specific-Impulse Trajectories in Simple Gravitational Fields " (2019), Vantage Partners LLC, Cleveland, OH.

33. Eamon E. McCleery, " Optimal Impulsive Transfers between Non-Coplanar Circular Orbits Using the Primer Vector " (2004), Northrup Grumman Corporation, Los Angeles, CA.

32. Suzannah L. Sandrik, " Analysis of Kechichian's Optimal Control Solution to a Low-Thrust Orbit Transfer Problem" (2002), Ph.D. Program, UIUC AAE.

31. Michael C. Tanzillo, " Optimal Escape Using Low Thrust Trajectories " (2000), The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, CA.

30. Chad M. Sund, " Velocity Feedback Control for Optimal Power-Limited Trajectories " (1996), U. S. Marine Corps Flight School, Pensacola, FL.

29. Jeffrey P. Elbel, " Multiple Revolution Solutions to Lambert's Problem using Laguerre's Algorithm " (1993), Hughes Aerospace Corporation, Los Angeles, CA. Currently, Editor, Space Times Magazine, American Astronautical Society

28. Timothy J. Urban, " Optimal Thrust-Limited Path-Constrained Rendezvous in a Linearized Gravitational Field " (1993), Ph.D. Program, University of Texas at Austin.

Earlier (pre-1993) M.S. Thesis Students

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Last update 12 dec 2019