Bachelor's programs give students a solid background in aeronautical and astronautical engineering concepts. In a master's program, students can study advanced concepts and learn to apply basic engineering principles to astronautical engineering; a thesis is usually required. Doctoral students study and conduct research in a specific area of astronautical engineering and prepare a dissertation.
Engineers who offer services to the public must be licensed, and a bachelor's degree is required for licensure, along with testing and experience. Graduates of astronautical or aerospace engineering programs, which include satellite engineering coursework, may find occupations in government agencies and private aerospace companies.
Bachelor's Degree in Aerospace and Astronautical Engineering
Bachelor's degree programs in astronautical engineering provide engineering skills that focus on astronautical concepts, such as spacecraft navigation and space flight dynamics. Aerospace engineering programs are more generalized, focusing on both astronautical (spacecraft) and aeronautical (aircraft) principles. Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Bachelor of Engineering programs take 4-5 years to complete. Applicants to a bachelor's degree program will need a high school diploma or GED.
Students take several courses in basic engineering, math and computers during the first years of study; they later engage in focused spacecraft engineering courses in areas such as space flight dynamics, thermodynamics and propulsion. Lab courses are also common. Topics focusing on astronautics include:
- Spaceflight mechanics
- Spacecraft mechanics and functioning
- Spacecraft design
Master's Degree in Astronautical Engineering
Master's degree programs in astronautical engineering expand on fundamental engineering concepts and teach advanced technical skills in the astronautical field of study, including spacecraft design and rocket propulsion. Master of Science in Engineering and Master of Engineering programs are common. Those wishing to enroll in a master's or Ph.D. program must have a bachelor's degree in aerospace, astronautical or mechanical engineering.
Graduate coursework includes advanced specialized engineering courses in astronomical principles, such as spacecraft building, in addition to core engineering and advanced mathematics courses. Students may choose a particular area of concentration based on professional interest. Other topics of study include:
- Spacecraft system design
- Orbital mechanics
- Satellite communications
- Spacecraft attitude dynamics
- GPS design
Doctor of Philosophy in Astronautical Engineering
Doctoral degree programs in astronautical engineering allow students to develop a focused plan of study on a particular area, such as flight mechanics or satellite navigation. Programs can be completed in about 3-5 years.
Coursework often involves in-depth research and study in an astronautical subject; therefore courses are chosen based on a student's area of research. Advanced courses continue the study of spacecraft design and engineering, as well as aerospace sciences. Possible topics of study include:
- Satellite navigation and control
- Advanced spacecraft construction
- Independent research
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aerospace engineers held 66,980 jobs as of May 2015 and earned a median salary of $107,830 that year. The BLS also expected a 2% employment decline for aerospace engineers between 2014 and 2024. Opportunities are expected to be the most favorable for engineers with experience in robotics, simulation and modeling as well as Computational Fluid Dynamics software.
While graduate programs qualify students for advanced positions in the aerospace field, graduates of master's and doctoral degree programs may also teach astronautical engineering at the community college and university levels. According to the BLS, postsecondary engineering teachers earned a median annual wage of $95,060 in May 2015.
A bachelor's degree typically qualifies graduates for entry-level jobs in the aerospace field. Entrants may work as assistant engineers for several years until they are qualified for licensure, and may work for government agencies, engineering companies and the military. Examples of possible careers in aerospace engineering include:
- Assistant astronautic engineer
- Aerospace technician
- NASA specialist
Continuing Education and Licensure Information
Graduates may go on to complete master's and doctoral degree programs to become highly specialized in astronautics. Licensure is required for all engineers offering services to the public. To qualify for licensure, a candidate must have a bachelor's degree from a school accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Candidates must also have several years of assistant engineer experience to take a state engineering licensing exam.
Students interested in working as satellite engineers can pursue a bachelor's, master's or doctorate degree in astronautical engineering to gain the required engineering concepts and skills. Graduates of these programs often become highly specialized in a particular area of the field.