Aerospace Engineering: The Current State and the Future Prospects
Aerospace engineering is a trade that applies engineering science in the development and study of aircraft, spacecraft and their related technologies. It is one of the most important branches of engineering and has helped humankind to dominate the skies and space above.
The challenge of triumphing flight was a grueling one where we saw no success for a large period. That changed in 1903 with the Wright brothers.
From a two manned aircraft in the 1900s, we have come a long way, and in 2019 we have commercial aircraft which can carry more than 850 passengers at a time!
But this is just the skies. We have also made spaceflight possible and have sent out space crafts that can orbit other planets and study them in great detail.
There are now astronauts working in space, helping us decode the universe that we are in! All these advancements came about because of aerospace engineering.
Aerospace engineering vs aeronautical engineering
Many debate around the subjects of aerospace engineering and aeronautical engineering, but seldom do they realize that this is not the right comparison. Aerospace engineering is an all-encompassing field of engineering that relates to the development of flights that happens within and outside of our atmosphere.
The question that one should ask is about the comparison between Aeronautical engineering Vs Astro-nautical engineering. For example, NASA has expertise in both aeronautical and astronautical engineering; hence it is an aerospace agency.
Aeronautical engineering relates to all engineering that is done on aircraft that travel within the earth’s atmosphere. Hence, airplanes, helicopters, drones, etc. all fall within this category.
Aeronautical engineering helps us to create more efficient and effective aircraft. This doesn’t just apply to commercial aircraft, but also private and business aircraft including drones.
The engineering isn’t all about just mechanics or the power that the aircraft can create, but also involve the material choices that are used in the creation of the aircraft.
The recent innovation from NASA is a great example where they tested a technology called Spanwise Adaptive Wing. The technology uses a new type of alloy that can bend and fold.
NASA used this alloy in the winds of the aircraft. This is advantageous in more ways than one.
It can result in superior fuel efficiency to better flight speeds, leading to even faster supersonic speeds. The winds fold between angles of 0 and 70 degrees.
The creation of Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, one of the most iconic stealth bombers is also an example of aeronautical engineering at its best. As you might have noticed already, when we talk about aeronautical engineering, everything is in the context of aircraft flying within the earth’s atmosphere.
Now, let’s discuss Astronautical engineering.
Astronautical engineering, which is often called aerospace engineering is the field of engineering concerned with spacecraft and space technologies. The term 'space technologies' is also quite expansive as it relates to satellite development, energy harvesting systems, rovers, etc.
Astronautical engineering has helped us to go beyond earth, to explore the vast expanse that is the space. Currently, we have more than 4800 satellites orbiting the earth. They comprise of the different satellites launched by different space research centers around the world.
One of our greatest achievements in engineering space structures is the International Space Station or ISS. It is a low orbit space research center that came into fruition from the agreement between 5 different countries.
A few years ago, astronautical engineering was mainly conducted by space agencies funded by the governments. However, that trend has changed with private companies coming into the scene like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Technologies like reusable space crafts are easing the resource tax that comes with spacecraft creation and use. Unlike aeronautics, astronautics have to deal with completely different use cases. The challenges come in the form of creating efficient propulsion systems, materials that can withstand the high amount of heat from reentry, radiation protection, reliable communications and navigations, and a safe environment for astronauts to live and work.
Astronautical engineering has come a long way and it is here to stay because we have only explored a tiny fraction of the space.
Choosing between aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering depends on your actual field of interest. If you are interested in airborne vehicles, then aeronautical engineering should be your pick. And if your interest is with the space crafts and space technologies then you will fit in perfectly with astronautical engineering.
The future of aerospace engineering
Aerospace engineering isn’t just going to have a bright future, it is going to be revolutionizing in more ways than one. We have already started thinking about using air space as future highways for personal use.
In other words, flying cars may not be far away as you think.
In such cases, you will see the melding of automobile and aerospace engineering. Japan recently unveiled its flying car stating that it would go into mass production by 2026.
The battery-powered flying car is compact and can alleviate the busy streets. We can expect this trend to continue in the future as more and more countries are eyeing towards flying cars for solving modern-day traffic problems.
And this is just the tip of an iceberg.
Aviation is a field that is going to witness many changes moving forward. In 2018, Airbus tested a solar aircraft that stayed in flight for 28 days.
The prototype isn’t capable of carrying any passenger load, but this is a step in the right direction. As the industry booms, they are going to need engineers to take the helm of different tasks, in other words, more job opportunities.
Reusable rockets and space tours are definitely a thing. Companies like Virgin Galactic are already working on their mission to take people to space for tours and space rides.
Humankind was always fascinated with the sky and the stars above. Aerospace engineering helped us not just to reach them, but to traverse them, confectioning different parts of the world and even the worlds around us.
If you wish to enter the aerospace field, there has been no better time than now. Make sure you trust your passion and work for it, the sky is not the limit!
"We could not have asked for more from InSight," Anna Harleston, co-lead of NASA InSight's Marsquake Service told IE.