Astronautical engineering is another branch of aerospace engineering that handles the manufacturing and design of spacecraft. In a complex industry that requires a certain skill set, the world of aerospace astronautical engineering offers job opportunities for folks who have a passion for physics, engineering, and outer space.
If you’re interested in learning more information about astronautical engineering, keep reading this guide!
How to Become an Astronautical Engineer
It’s important to understand that astronautical engineers are responsible for the design and development of spacecraft, including satellites, space capsules, missiles, and rockets.
Many job opportunities within astronautical engineering require a graduate degree in a relevant field, but other areas only require a bachelor’s degree. Additionally, you will need to be comfortable collaborating with fellow engineers, understand the complexities of space flight theory, and design innovative spacecraft that adapt to future changes.
Now, let’s continue to discuss some of the primary job responsibilities of an astronautical engineer.
If you’re hoping to become an astronautical engineer, you should expect to handle the following job duties daily:
- Coordinate with peers for product testing and design
- Set project deadlines
- Propose new projects
- Check for quality assurance
- Maintain equipment to ensure high-quality standards
- Direct the design plan for various spacecraft
- Evaluate product designs
Special skills are often innate, but many astronautical engineers may possess the following:
- Clear, consistent communication skills
- Proficiency in computer design and special software programs
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment
- Ability to meet frequent deadlines
- Excellent problem-solving skills for diagnosing possible design risks or errors
- Strategic thinker
Areas of Research in Astronautical Engineering
Astronautical engineering offers a wide variety of areas to research, which presents exciting opportunities for future astronautical engineers. However, all primary research areas within astronautical engineering relate to space flight.
Specialized research areas within astronautical engineering may include the following:
- Astrodynamics, which include trajectory and orbital patterns
- Spacecraft propulsion and launch systems
- Spacecraft design
- Structural engineering
- Software engineering
- Electrical engineering
- Electronic engineering
Work Environments for Astronautical Engineers
As an astronautical engineer, you may expect to work in any of the following capacities:
- Federal government
- Companies contracted through the government
- Spacecraft manufacturers
- Private contractors that build spacecraft
- Space programs with an in-house team
Not all astronautical engineers were former astronauts, though some astronauts may have studied astronautical engineering.
The Educational Path of an Astronautical Engineer
Most aspiring astronautical engineers will need to follow a particular educational path for their career and may need to meet certain licensing requirements for professional opportunities in the future.
Here are the educational obligations you can expect to follow as a future astronautical engineer:
- Obtaining a bachelor’s degree at an accredited institution with a degree in astronautical engineering
- Taking relevant courses through an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) approved program, which includes university-level engineering programs
- Acquiring hands-on, relevant experience through internships in an ABET aerospace or astronautical program
- Taking additional courses on math, physics, astrophysics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or electronic engineering
If you’re attending a university that doesn’t offer an official astronautical engineering program, focus on studying relevant courses and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a similar concentration. Besides, many entry-level opportunities for astronautical engineers will accept a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area.
Bear in mind that certain technical jobs in astronautical engineering may be more specific to candidates with a relevant graduate degree, such as a master’s degree or Ph.D. in engineering or similar. The aforementioned mostly applies to senior-level positions within astronautical engineering.
Licensing and Certification Requirements
As an entry-level employee, you may not need to obtain a license or additional certification for astronautical engineering. However, many mid-level or senior-level astronautical engineers choose to apply for a Professional Engineering (PE) license.
Having an official PE license can open you up to plenty of high-level opportunities in astronautical engineering. Additionally, those who obtain a PE license often become senior-level managers.
If you’re interested in obtaining a PE license, you’ll need to meet the following requirements:
- Undergoing four years of relevant, on-site work experience under a professionally licensed engineer
- A bachelor’s degree from an ABET program
- Taking and passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
- Taking and passing the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
Additionally, your state may require other certifications depending on the local board requirements. Be sure to check your state’s board website for further information.
Average Salary of an Astronautical Engineer
As of 2018, the national average salary of an astronautical engineer was $115,220, which is higher than an engineer’s expected salary of $93,080. Depending on the industry, work environment, and level of experience, some astronautical engineers may have higher earnings. As you advance in an astronautical engineering career, you’ll learn a lot about the different industry placements for the role.
What is the Difference Between Aeronautics and Astronautics?
Astronautical and aeronautical engineering are similar in theory. The studies overlap in many areas and require similar skills and tools. However, astronautical engineering is a subdivision of aerospace engineering.
Aerospace engineering offers two main areas: aeronautics and astronautics. Aeronautical engineers handle the design and manufacturing of specialized aircraft, such as airplanes. Astronautical engineers, on the other hand, often need to collaborate with aeronautical engineers to develop spacecraft and satellites.
The Future of Astronautical Engineering
Astronautical engineering is a modern position because space machines continue to evolve. Space machines are considered state-of-the-art equipment, and astronautical engineers are always looking for ways to improve these devices.
Astronautical engineers handle the testing and design of special machines that visit outer space, such as missiles, rockets, satellites, and more. As technology becomes more innovative, astronautical engineers need to adapt and help these flight machines travel far distances.
Positions in astronautical engineering are part of the broader aerospace engineering field and require skills in science, math, engineering, physics, and more. This role is distinguishable from the rest of aerospace engineering and more exciting job opportunities are opening up in the field.
Ultimately, the future is looking successful for astronautical engineers. Space programs are undergoing frequent exciting changes, and new scientific discoveries are waiting to be made.
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