Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical/Space Engineering

What is Aerospace Engineering?

Aerospace engineering is the study of design, production, and operation of flying machines. This branch of the sciences consists of two categories: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. The aeronautical engineering field concentrates on machines that fly within Earth’s atmosphere such as airplanes, helicopters, and jets. Meanwhile, astronautical engineering focuses on those that exit Earth’s atmosphere like rockets and spacecrafts. Aerospace engineering has existed as a field of study since the 19th century.

What Do Aerospace Engineers Do?

The main job of an aerospace engineer is to design flying machines. These range from airplanes, jets, and even missiles to spacecrafts, space stations, and satellites. Many aerospace engineers focus their expertise on specific components of a certain flying machine such as the wings of an aircraft or the control system of a spacecraft. 

Beyond the design phase, aerospace engineers also involve themselves in the testing phase for all components of aeronautical and astronautical craft. Engineers design tests for each machine. While aeronautical engineers and astronautical engineers both tackle the same issue of designing flying machines, aeronautical engineers work within the atmosphere of Earth while astronautical engineers work on models designed to enter space. In both cases, aerospace engineers do the work necessary to keep flying machines safe and flight-ready.

Is Aerospace Engineering Hard?

You know how some people use the old saying “It’s not rocket science” to put others at ease about how difficult a job is? Well, as explained above, one of the branches of aerospace engineering is quite literally rocket science. It is a very difficult field of study and profession but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing it. 

First and foremost, an aerospace engineer needs an exceptional understanding of several branches of the sciences—engineering, technology, and physics. Because the design of flying machines also involves intricate calculations, it’s important to have a thorough knowledge of mathematics, including concepts like geometry, calculus, and statistics. With technology playing a vital role in both design and testing, you should also have a good background in computers and electronics.

So, yes, aerospace engineering is hard. But if you possess an intellectual curiosity for math and science, it’s also a subject that will utilize all of your academic strengths and give you a chance to apply them to a vital industry.

Where Do Aerospace Engineers Work?

There are two main sectors where aerospace engineers find employment: private industry and the government. In addition, some aerospace engineers find work in academia and engineers employed in academic positions devote most of their time to research and instructing future aerospace engineers.

In both the private industry and government, aerospace engineers work in offices, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities. Those in offices spend most of their days working with computers to design flying machines and run them through simulations. Industry-based engineers also find work at aircraft manufacturing or testing facilities as well as software development corporations. Government-employed engineers can find positions in NASA, the FAA, or the military.

How do I Become an Aerospace Engineer?

There are many different answers to the question of how to become an aerospace engineer, and they revolve around how long you want to spend in postsecondary education. We’ll break it down below.  

How Long Does it Take to be an Aerospace Engineer?

There are actually many jobs affiliated with aerospace engineering and the length of time needed to land one varies based on the kind of degree and level of expertise required. There are a few positions (such as aerospace technician) that hire workers with a 2-year associate degree. Many others require the completion of a 4-year bachelor’s degree program. And at the highest level, scientist positions require job applicants to complete a master’s degree or PhD, which can take four or more years on top of a bachelor’s degree. 

Associate level

In most instances, students complete a 2-year associate degree in aerospace engineering as preparation to transfer into a 4-year bachelor’s-level program. For these students, the associate-level curriculum consists of foundational and prerequisite courses for the baccalaureate degree. These include geometry, physics, chemistry, calculus, and differential equations. 

For those looking to find employment immediately after earning their degree, an associate program also prepares students for certification as an aerospace technician. In this instance, students take classes in subjects like computer-aided design, arc welding, technical mathematics, and electronics assembly. 

What Do You Do as an Aerospace Technician and How Much Do You Make? 

Aerospace technicians help perform some of the physical labor at a laboratory. In the workplace, an aerospace technician assists aerospace engineers through tasks such as operating a wind tunnel, building scale models, and assembling test equipment. 

The average salary for an aerospace technician is $47,000.

Baccalaureate level

In order to become a professional aerospace engineer, a 4-year bachelor’s degree is a requirement. It is also at this time during undergraduate education that students choose whether to concentrate in aeronautical or astronautical fields. Baccalaureate-level courses cover numerous subjects specifically related to aerospace engineering such as aircraft structures, aerospace dynamics, propulsion, thermodynamics, avionics, and experimental space systems. In addition, bachelor’s-level students enroll in a number of advanced science and mathematics classes like computer aided design and advanced engineering mathematics.

Outside of the classroom, students at the baccalaureate level often find an internship with an aerospace-related industry to gain professional experience and a sense of what everyday life as an aerospace engineer looks like. At many colleges, these four years of undergrad culminate in a comprehensive project revolving around designing or completing an aircraft or spacecraft.

What Can I Do with a Bachelor’s in Aerospace Engineering?

A 4-year bachelor’s degree enables you to find employment as an aerospace engineer. In addition, the baccalaureate degree opens the door to other scientific jobs such as: Aircraft Designer, Spacecraft Designer, Military Aerospace Engineer, Compliance Officer, Data Processing Manager, and Payload Specialist.

How Much Do Aerospace Engineers Make?

An entry level average salary for an Aerospace Engineer is $69,000. 


As for the other jobs available with a bachelor’s degree, the average salaries range from $67,000 (Compliance Officer) and $74,000 (Military Aerospace Engineer) on the low end to $98,000 (Aircraft Designer) on the high end.

Graduate level

Earning a master’s degree in a field like aerospace engineering opens up job opportunities in positions that require more advanced education and skills. In addition, it provides students with more opportunities to network with professionals in the field. There are a few ways students can obtain a master’s degree in aerospace engineering. 

Grad students can opt to pursue either a thesis or non-thesis related track. In both instances, the aerospace engineering grad school experience consists mostly of lectures and lab work. The primary difference is going to be completion time: in a non-thesis track, the MA in aerospace engineering can be completed in as little as one year of independent study. 

On the other hand, the thesis track utilizes a more traditional master’s degree schedule and culminates in a capstone project. Master’s degree students pursue more advanced topics of study such as aeroelasticity, global positioning systems, aerospace theory, and space mechanics. 

For students who want to dig into the research aspect of the field, several schools offer a PhD in aerospace engineering. A PhD program involves intense lab work, independent study, and the opportunity to assist an aerospace professor for a semester. Every PhD student is required to put together a thesis and defend it before a faculty panel in order to earn their doctorate. In addition, all PhD students must pass a comprehensive skills examination to determine their knowledge of the aerospace engineering field.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering?

In addition to becoming an aerospace engineer, a master’s degree provides the opportunity to pursue several other career fields such as: Mechanical Engineer, Industrial Engineer, Computer Hardware Engineer, Engineering Manager, Materials Engineer, and Manufacturing Systems Engineer.

Average salaries for these jobs range from $85,000 (Mechanical Engineer) and $103,000 (Computer Hardware Engineer) to a high of $137,000 (Engineering Manager).

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