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Astronautics specializing in Spacecraft Propulsion: What Major?

  1. Jun 13, 2012 #1
    I'm entering my senior year in high school and I can't decide what I want to major in in college. I am DECENT (not too good) at engineering, but I am good with math, science, and the like. Currently, I want to work with Spacecraft Propulsion after college, especially high efficiency engines and near-super-luminal-speed travel. Lately, I've wanted to work with Aerospace engineering, just without the plane and mechanical engineering parts. My question is what majors should I look for to work with Spacecraft Propulsion. Chemical engineering? Aerospace engineering? Astrophysics? Thank you, and sorry if I was a bit vague.
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  3. Jun 13, 2012 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    How do you know you are "decent (not too good) in engineering" if you are in high school? If you were thinking about being a doctor, would you say that you were "decent (not too good)" in medicine? You might be very good at it; it's too soon to tell.

    I am afraid you will not be working on near-super-luminal-speed travel no matter what you major in. The field does not exist.
  4. Jun 13, 2012 #3
    Engineering is the art of turning theory in to practice.

    A healthy understanding of mathematics is essential. This is not because you will need to use the math on a daily basis; but rather to understand the foundations of the quantum physics, Statics, Dynamics, Fluids, Electricity and Magnetism, Chemistry, Thermodynamics, Circuits and Signals, and many more things that you will be studying.

    I am not a mathematician, but I do know enough to competently read a research paper and to understand what it is about.

    As for "near-super-luminal-speed travel" --please put down the science fiction and take a look at NASA's web sites. There are no such space-craft. We do not have the engineering experience to build such things from materials and technological practice that we know today.

    One other thing: the Aerospace industry attracts a lot of very good talent. However, the projects do go boom and bust --a lot. I mention this because this happens with great regularity. It happened after the Apollo Lunar missions. It happened after the cold war projects were no longer needed. And it happened after the space-shuttle program ended. You can find yourself working on some really cool projects, but there is absolutely no job security. Some don't mind it. Others, get disgusted and leave. My brother was one of the latter.

    If you do choose to work in the Aerospace industry, keep a large savings handy because there will be significant periods of time when you may not be able to find work.

    Good Luck!
  5. Jun 14, 2012 #4
    Thank you for your replies so far, and the near-super-luminal-speed" was just a very dry joke. My apologies if you took it seriously. Vanadium 50, the reason that I say I am not too good in engineering is because there are many students at my grade level who are much better than me at it. My teachers also get somewhat disappointed when we do competitions. I think that it is mostly because i spend too much time planning and not enough time actually building.
  6. Jun 14, 2012 #5

    D H

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    A typical person, even a typical very bright person, who is entering his senior year in high school does not know what an engineer (or a scientist) really does.

    And apparently your teacher doesn't either. Engineering is not a competition in which one builds first, analyzes later.
  7. Jun 20, 2012 #6
    Speaking from experience as an Aerospace engineering major, with this statement here, you may not what to do aerospace engineering if you don't want to work on practical problems involving mechanics and design of planes.

    Having said that, you should do some research on the subject, you will find that it is a very versatile field with a very broad scope not just focused on planes. Examples include, computational fluid dynamics research, propulsion, aerodynamics (which can be applied to more than just planes), Dynamics and controls, systems stuff, and much more.

    I would suggest you research the fields you want to go into, and get a feel for what they actually do before making a decision. When I was a freshman in college I had no idea what I wanted to do and researched every major my university offered before deciding what I wanted to do. Further, I have loved space since I was a little kid and can't remember a time when i wasn't fascinated by it. So, when I switched my major from physics to aerospace engineering where I can really apply stuff to space applications I knew I was at home.

    It's just something you are going to have to feel out for yourself once you get to college honestly. I have never known a student who knew right off the bat exactly what they wanted to do all the way through school and after and did exactly that. There is always an exploration period, where you don't quite know what you are good at, what you want to do, and what you are really passionate about. It will definitely take some time, and probably a few failures before you realize exactly what it is you love.


  8. Jun 20, 2012 #7
    If you are interested in propulsion then you'll probably want to either do aero at a school which has a good propulsion systems program and get into it from the mechanical side, or you could go into chemistry and get into it from the fuel side of things.
  9. Jun 22, 2012 #8
    So at the most basic level, If you want to work in propulsion I'd say Aerospace/Mechanical Engineering. I have friends who work in Spacex in their propulsion department, and they are mostly mechanical engineers.

    Chemical engineering is somewhat of an option, but personally I've seen very few Cheme's who work in propulsion compared to Meche's. Chemistry is alright if you specifically want to invent new fuels, but this is a very, very narrow field.

    On the other hand, you said your interested in novel propulsion technologies. I would then say look into engineering physics or nuclear engineering. There are fewer "general" propulsion related jobs, but if you want to go into the high end, state of the art systems then these majors are more likely to get you there. I see nuclear space propulsion as a possibility in the future, and advanced ion engines like VASIMR (sp) are currently being designed.

    I was basically in your shoes when I was a senior in high school, planning on studying advanced space propulsion after graduation. I was torn between engineering physics/mechanical engineering for my majors. I was planning on getting a PhD in nuclear engineering and hoping opportunities for nuclear space propulsion would open in the future. Ultimately I was discouraged at the prospects of this ever becoming a reality, but stayed in the engineering physics major, and again I know a lot of people in my major going on to work with rockets.
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