Aerospace engineering is the branch of engineering dealing with aircraft and spacecraft. It is often referred to as aeronautical engineering, particularly when dealing solely with aircraft, and astronautical engineering, when dealing with spacecraft. Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are:

  • Aerodynamics - the study of fluid flow around objects such as wings (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
  • 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 computer technology have enabled the use of computational fluid dynamics to simulate the behavior of a vehicle, reducing time and expense.

Additionally, aerospace engineering deals with the integration of all components that constitute an aerospace vehicle (subsystems including power, communications, thermal control, life support, etc.) and its life cycle (design, manufacture, testing, operation, disposal), and as such is really a special branch of systems engineering. The operational requirements of aerospace vehicles are often extreme (temperature, pressure, radiation, velocity, life time...), leading to extraordinary challenges and solutions specific to the domain of aerospace systems engineering.

See also