Students of four-year bachelor's degree programs in aerospace and astronautical engineering gain an introduction to the field through classroom and laboratory experiences. While enrolled in a related two-year master's-level program, students may focus on specific areas of spacecraft technology. A thesis project may be required.
Throughout their program, students pursuing a doctoral degree in astronautical engineering will conduct research and be expected to complete a dissertation. In some cases, astronautical engineers must become licensed. This requires experience and passage of the Professional Engineer examination.
To enroll in a bachelor's degree program, students must have completed high school or earned a GED. Master's degree programs require students to hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, as do doctoral programs. In addition, doctoral programs will likely require applicants to have completed at least 120 hours of graduate study and may require them to meet with an advisory committee to devise a detailed study plan and dissertation idea.
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace and Astronautical Engineering
Astronautical engineering is a specific branch of the aerospace engineering field and at the bachelor's degree level the two subjects are often offered simultaneously. Such degree programs provide students with a solid understanding of how engineering principles can be applied to the design of astronautical technologies. Classroom lectures provide students with a solid theoretical understanding of astronautical structures, materials, fluid mechanics, propulsion systems, combustion, and more. Advanced courses often revolve around laboratory experiences where theories can be reinforced through practical experiences.
In addition to having a high school diploma and strong standardized test scores, incoming freshmen are often required to take additional prerequisites before they can begin core courses within an astronautical engineering program. Prerequisites may include basic engineering, physics, and mechanical English.
The first two years of a degree program in astronautical engineering typically focus on introductory mathematics and science courses, while the second two years focus on specific systems related to astronautical vehicles. Specific examples of courses include:
- Introduction to astronautical engineering
- Quantum physics
Master of Science in Astronautical Engineering
It is typical for aeronautical and astronautical engineers to gain graduate-level education. Such programs often allow students to focus on a particular aspect of space technology, such as space system design, spacecraft propulsion, or spacecraft dynamics. Students spend two years exploring and furthering research in their concentration while also gaining a solid background in spacecraft mechanics, environments, and design.
Students enrolled in master's degree programs in astronautical engineering can come from a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds, including mechanical, electrical and aerospace engineering, physics, or related disciplines. They may be required to submit GRE scores.
The courses found within a master's degree program in astronautical engineering are divided between core courses, elective courses, and independent thesis research. Examples of courses might include:
- Spacecraft system design
- Spacecraft propulsion
- Orbital mechanics
- Structural dynamics
- Rocket propulsion
- Spacecraft sensors
Doctor of Philosophy in Astronautical Engineering
Doctoral degree programs in astronautical engineering are designed for individuals who want to teach at the university level or perform extensive research in the astronautical engineering field. Students enrolled in an astronautical engineering program generally concentrate in one particular aspect of the subject, conduct research, and produce a dissertation paper. Areas that doctoral students might specialize in include flight mechanics, propulsion, dynamics, and control or structural mechanics.
The courses offered within a Ph.D. program in astronautical engineering are highly individualized to reflect a student's chosen interest in the field. Core courses might include:
- Directed research
- Spacecraft power systems
- Space navigation
- Advanced orbital mechanics
- Advanced spacecraft propulsion
Popular Career Options
A graduate degree in astronautical engineering can prepare individuals for more varied and advanced roles in the engineering field. Some of these include:
- Spacecraft vehicle engineer
- Propulsion systems engineering manager
- Astronautical test engineer
- Senior field engineer
- Astronautical electrical systems design engineer
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aerospace engineers as a group - including astronautical engineers - earned median annual salary of $118,610 as of May 2020 (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicts that slow growth in the manufacturing industry will contribute to a job increase of 3% between 2019-2029; national defense work that requires high security clearances will help keep jobs in the U.S.
Many graduates of Ph.D. programs in astronautical engineering go on to hold research and professor chairs at colleges and universities. According to the BLS, engineering professors, including those teaching astronautical engineering, earned a median annual salary of $103,600.
Astronautical engineers who offer their expertise to the public directly must gain licensure. Each state has its own requirements, but most require individuals to have a degree and some professional experience. Individuals who meet the requirements and pass an examination may be awarded the Professional Engineer (PE) designation.
Students can enroll in astronautical engineering degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to prepare for careers designing different kinds of technology and vehicles that work in space. Licensure is likely required, similar to all other engineering fields.