Aerospace engineers design, construct and test the flight of aircrafts and spacecrafts. They use the scientific and engineering principles regarding flight in their work, taking science, math, practicality and physical construction into consideration. Aerospace science can be studied as part of aerospace engineering programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels. A master's degree is usually the minimum needed to be an aerospace engineer, while those seeking industry leadership and/or research positions could benefit from a Ph.D.
Applicants to master's degree programs must typically hold a bachelor's degree in science or engineering. Schools may prefer that students' undergraduate degree be in mechanical or aerospace engineering. Students lacking the required undergraduate coursework may still apply but will usually have to complete additional coursework.
While many students applying to a doctoral degree program possess a master's degree in aerospace or mechanical engineering, this isn't a firm requirement. Applicants with a bachelor's degree in aerospace or mechanical engineering may be considered, although they may need to complete additional coursework as part of the program. Programs may require that prospective applicants make arrangements to work with a willing faculty advisor prior to applying.
Bachelor's Degree in Aerospace Science
In a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Sciences program, students explore the role of engineering in the design, construction and flight of aircraft and spacecraft. With an emphasis on relevant concepts like aerodynamics, structural mechanics and fluid mechanics, students examine how design elements and manufacturing processes factor into the safe and successful operation of aircraft and spacecraft. Students may be able to conduct hands-on lab work in propulsion, modeling, aerodynamics, design and instrumentation. Students could choose a concentration in sub-fields of aerospace science like aircraft control and stability, aerodynamics, thermodynamics, propulsion systems or aeroelasticity.
These four-year bachelor's degree programs generally require that incoming students hold a high school diploma. A series of general education courses is usually required. In addition, the typical course load includes science, math and engineering classes along with corresponding lab work. Internships may also be available. Course topics typically offered include:
- Applied principles of aerodynamics
- Theoretical and applied thermodynamics
- Systems design for spacecraft
- Aerospace structures
- Fundamental concepts in performance and design of air- and spacecraft
- Engineering economics
Master's Degree in Aerospace Science and Engineering
Students seeking to study aerospace science beyond a bachelor's degree can obtain a Master of Science in Engineering in Aerospace Engineering or Master of Aerospace Engineering. Typically a 2-year program, coursework may emphasize practical education and skills related to carrying out aircraft and spacecraft design and manufacturing. Programs may also include a related business and management component. Some specializations may be available in propulsion, structures, fluids and similar topics.
Students generally enroll in math and technical courses as well as electives like business, manufacturing or human factors analysis. Original research, lab work and team projects may be part of student coursework. Some programs require a master's thesis. Course topics include:
- Solid and structural mechanics in aerospace uses
- Elastic stability
- Advanced Fluid mechanics
- Linear systems theory
- Turbulence modeling and simulation
- Advanced rocket propulsion
Doctoral Degree in Aerospace Science and Engineering
Students desiring an advanced degree in aerospace science may earn a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering or Aeronautics and Astronautics. Programs are typically flexible enough to meet student needs or interests. Through coursework and lab experiments, students advance their knowledge, critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities with regard to challenges in design, manufacturing and operation of air- and spacecraft in the aerospace science industry.
In addition, doctoral candidates may be required to serve as teaching assistants for some undergraduate and graduate classes. Some schools also require a qualifying exam. While some schools require a small number of prescribed classes for doctoral students, others allow complete flexibility, mandating only a certain number of completed credits. Students undertake original research under faculty guidance with the end-goal of writing a defensible dissertation. Available courses may include:
- Nonlinear control systems in aerospace engineering
- Advanced concepts in kinetic theory
- Plasma diagnostics in aeronautics
- Fusion reactor fundamentals
- Vibrations of aerospace systems
Possible Career Options
Graduates with a bachelor's degree in aerospace science have the tools and knowledge to land an entry-level position in aerospace engineering or a related field. Career options include:
- Aircraft engineer
- Aerospace laboratory assistant
Graduates of Ph.D. programs are usually qualified for advanced management and leadership roles in the aerospace industry or academia. Some popular career fields for graduates include:
- Aerospace engineer
- Aerospace science researcher
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
In 2015, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that $110,570 was the mean annual salary of aerospace engineers, a common career option for those with a master's degree in aerospace science and related subjects (www.bls.gov). According to the BLS, there were nearly 67,000 aerospace engineers in 2015. Employment is expected to decrease by 2% from 2014-2024. The BLS also indicates that most aerospace engineers work in the field of aerospace product and parts manufacturing.
Although employment is possible with a bachelor's degree, many individuals interested in a career in aerospace science choose to obtain a master's degree. Degrees are available in aerospace science or aerospace science and engineering. While some master's degree programs are intended to guide students towards advanced education at the doctoral level, others are considered terminal degrees for students seeking to begin working in their chosen career. Graduates of master's degree programs in aerospace science may qualify for study in Ph.D. programs in aeronautics and astronautics or aerospace engineering.
The study of aerospace science, or aerospace engineering, is available through undergraduate and graduate-level programs that cover the fundamentals of this engineering discipline. The degree that students earn ultimately determines how high they can rise in this science- and technology-based field.