What is Astronautical Engineering?

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astronautical engineering


With an online Master of Science in Engineering from the University of California, Riverside, the sky truly is the limit. Those who specialize in aerospace engineering and deal with aircraft and spacecraft know just how true that statement is, as there’s no end to the sky’s expanse.

Much like the air up there, aerospace engineering is a broad, extensive field that has several offshoots. One of which is astronautical engineering. These professionals use many of the same engineering skills and solutions as other professionals in science and engineering, but their field is more confined to a particular “space” – in the literal sense of the term. And with an online master’s in mechanical engineering, you’ll receive an education that is out of this world.

You may be curious, though, about what an astronautical engineer does and how the job differs from other branches of aerospace engineering.

What is astronautical engineering all about?

As their title more or less implies, astronautical engineers design, develop and manufacture spacecraft, the same vehicles astronauts use to journey past the skies and into what in many ways remains the great unknown. Space vehicles have come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, unmanned devices can travel greater distances and remain there for longer periods through intelligent navigational systems and remote sensing. These capabilities are largely attributable to the work and technical know how that astronautical engineers provide to aerospace systems, in particular, and the science and engineering field overall.

In addition to space vehicles, astronautical engineering experts are also commonly involved in the manufacture or design of satellites, space capsules, planetary probes, missiles and rockets. These are highly technical pieces of machinery and require a deft understanding of control systems and core principles of physics, flight and mathematics. Many of these skills are taught in UC Riverside’s online core engineering curriculum, including Technology Innovation and Strategy for Engineers, Introduction to Systems Engineering as well as Engineering in the Global Environment.

How is astronautical engineering different from aerospace engineering?

Perhaps the best way to think of astronautical engineering is as a derivative of aerospace engineering. In other words, aerospace is more of an umbrella term, whereas astronautical is a specialty. As noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with aerospace engineering backgrounds usually have expertise in one of two engineering disciplines: aeronautical or astronautical. Whereas astronautical engineers work with the science and technology of designing spacecraft and satellites, aeronautical engineers handle aircraft and propulsion systems, confined to those that operate under the Earth’s atmosphere. However, there is some overlap between the two professions because they use many of the same skills, tools and abilities for their employers.

While astronautical engineers do not meet the technical definition of astronauts, many of those who went on to be astronauts came from backgrounds in astronautical engineering.

Do you get a lot of hands-on experience in astronautical engineering?

As with many other professions in the sciences, astronautical engineering does involve a lot of book learning. However, hands-on experience is equally as important, if not more so, because many of the skills taught in the classroom – or online – must be put into practice to gain greater expertise and understanding. Ideal candidates for open positions are often those who may have worked on engineering projects in college as a volunteer or intern at research facilities. The faculty at UC Riverside come from experience, which can enable students to better appreciate what they can expect in real-world settings with employers. Aerospace product and parts manufacturing firms, the federal government and engineering services are among the most common employers of astronautical engineers.

How much do astronautical engineers make in salary?

The field of aerospace engineering is broad, as is the earning potential. Based on the most recent figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for engineers in this field in 2018 was $115,220. That is nearly three times the median among all occupations and over $22,000 more than the typical engineer ($93,080). Earnings are largely determined by level of experience and the industry astronautical engineers wind up entering, such as research and development versus parts manufacturing. Level of education may also factor into earning potential. Entry-level work requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but some positions may list a master’s degree as a prerequisite.

If you’re looking to propel yourself into an exciting career, the University of California, Riverside can help you lift off. To learn more and discover some of the classes you will take through the online Master of Science in Engineering program, apply today.


Recommended Readings

Learn About Working as an Aerospace Engineer

How to Narrow Down your Engineering Career of Choice

University of California, Riverside Mechanical Engineering Program



BLS – Aerospace Engineers

AllAboutCareers – Astronautical Engineer