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Aerospace engineering

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Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering concerning aircraft, spacecraft and related topics. It is often called aeronautical engineering, particularly when referring solely to aircraft, and astronautical engineering, when referring to spacecraft. Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are:

  • Aerodynamics - the study of fluid flow around objects such as wings or through objects such as wind tunnels (see also lift and aeronautics)
  • Propulsion - the energy to move a vehicle through the air (or in outer space) is provided by internal combustion engines, jet engines, or rockets (see also propeller and Spacecraft Propulsion)
  • Control or flight dynamics - the study of maneuvering vehicles to achieve the desired position and attitude (that is, which way the vehicle is pointing) (see also Astrodynamics)
  • Structures - design of the physical configuration of the craft to withstand the forces encountered during flight. Aerospace engineering focuses on keeping structures lightweight, and yet safe, for maximum payload and performance.
  • Materials - related to structures, aerospace engineering also studies the materials of which the aerospace structures are to be built. New materials with very specific properties are invented, or existing ones are modified to improve their performance.
  • Aeroelasticity - the interaction of aerodynamic forces and structural flexibility, potentially causing flutter, divergence, etc

The basis of most of these elements lies in theoretical mathematics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics. However, there is also a large empirical component. Historically, this empirical component was derived from testing of scale models and prototypes, either in wind tunnels or in the free atmosphere. More recently, advances in computing have enabled the use of computational fluid dynamics to simulate the behavior of fluid, reducing time and expense spent on wind-tunnel testing.

Additionally, aerospace engineering addresses the integration of all components that constitute an aerospace vehicle (subsystems including power, communications, thermal control, life support, etc.) and its life cycle (design, temperature, pressure, radiation, velocity, life time...), leading to extraordinary challenges and solutions specific to the domain of aerospace systems engineering.

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