Aerospace engineers design, build and test rockets, spacecraft, satellites and related systems.
$67,850 to $107,830 to $158,700
U.S: California, Florida, Alabama
Minimum Educational Level
Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science
Required in most U.S. states: EIT/EI (Engineers in Training/Engineer Interns), PE (Professional Engineers)
Junior Engineer > Project Engineer > Managing Engineer > Chief Engineer
Aerospace engineers work in teams that design, build and test vehicles for the use in the atmosphere and in space. Aerospace engineering is a specialized discipline that includes many subfields and where different disciplines overlap. These are primarily physics, mathematics, aerodynamics and earth sciences. There are currently around 67,000 aerospace engineers in the U.S.
Aerospace engineering involves diverse disciplines and the background of the engineers is equally wide and varied. Mechanical, software or manufacturing engineering are only some of the subfields that are part of aerospace engineering. Aerospace engineers take care of the complete design of spacecraft, including body, propulsion, electronics and navigation systems. Tasks of of engineers vary widely based on their specialization.
Aerospace engineers receive extensive education and training. Core academic subjects include aerodynamics, thermodynamics, propulsion, structural analysis, among others. The complexities involved in the design of spacecraft are large and therefore they have to possess solid academic background before allowed to work on actual projects. These include solid knowledge of how materials and structures perform under great stress in the atmosphere and in the vacuum of space.
There are different specializations in the field of aerospace engineering. Here are some of the common ones.
Analytical Engineers perform mathematical analyses, solve issues that arise during design and testing phase. They may also perform stress analyses, determining how materials behave under different conditions. Analytical engineers make extensive use of computational methods.
CFD Engineers work on task related to computational fluid dynamics a discipline that studies how fluids behave in different settings. They create computer models and perform various simulations to decreases risks and costs associated with real testing.
Design Engineers are responsible for overall design of spacecraft and have to ensure that all subsystems work well together using computer-aided design.
Manufacturing Engineers design production plants and optimize manufacturing processes keeping in mind economical efficiency of production.
Materials Engineers work with different materials used on spacecraft such as steel, glass or plastics. They study how they react to high mechanical stress or temperatures and ensure that they are suitable for various conditions of spaceflight.
Quality Control Engineers are present during all phases of building spacecraft and constantly evaluate its reliability. They also make sure that maintenance procedures are in line with stringent requirements of aerospace industry.
Aerospace engineers work in various environments depending on their particular specialization. Those involved in design or research may expect to work in the standard office environment and use computer tools extensively. Test engineers make use of laboratories or test sites to re-create launch or flight conditions. Manufacturing engineers often work in the actual factories, where they monitor assembly of parts to ensure they meet design criteria – this required walking longer distances and more physical activity in general. Some engineers may be required to travel to test sites or laboratories. Large organizations such as NASA often have multiple facilities scattered across the country. Others may need to travel to different locations to visit subcontractors (of which there are many in the aerospace industry) or to consult different aspects of larger projects.
During high school you should take as many math and science classes as possible. If possible, try to take some Advanced Placement (AP) classes too. Their level of difficulty matches that of college courses and will make you better prepared.
All engineers have to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. When selecting a college, make sure that it has an accredited engineering program ABET– this is a requirement for obtaining a license in many states. Check the ABET website for the complete list of accredited universities.
Extra-curricular activities are strongly valued by employers in the space industry. Among them the most popular are engineering competitions. By participating in them students can demonstrate to their prospective employers that they have a real hands-on experience with engineering and teamwork. Some of the most popular competitions are listed below. Note that the nature of these competition does not have to be directly related to aerospace engineering.
Information about salaries and various job data: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Image Credits: NASA