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What sort of degree is best for working on propulsion systems?

  1. Sep 21, 2013 #1

    I am currently an aerospace engineer at university and was beginning to wonder whether it was the best idea to be an AE engineer. The curriculum involves courses on propulsion systems and the different methods as well as other courses about the actual structure of aircraft and spacecraft, but a lot of what the propulsion course lectures on is liquid rockets.

    Seeing as how I'm really interested in physics and how the liquid rocket is generally a very inefficient method for going into space, do you think that I might be better off majoring in engineering physics? I want to be a part of a group of people working on developing both new and better technology that is almost ahead of its time. The idea of rockets is awesome, but it's also quite barbaric and very expensive.

    The engineering physics course I'm looking at obviously doesn't have a course on propulsion, but it has a more general course ranging from the study of electrical systems and applications as well as labs and classes teaching abstract physics concepts and the applications of such concepts like quantum mechanics and such

    That being said do you think that if I wanted to work on propulsion systems it would be safer to try and just major in aerospace engineering? Or should I do the engineering physics route? Do employers with similar ambitions have bias towards one or the other?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2013 #2
    Propulsion systems generally have to do with the chemistry of the fuel (air/fuel mixture, or solid fuel energy density/burn rate, etc), the geometry of the combustion chamber/nozzle, the design of the auxilliary components (cooling, fuel feed, etc), the design of the control systems (if any).

    Typically an engineer will design these things, regardless of the type. Though they may like to have a chemist look into the fuel selection. AE, ME, EE, CS would all work together to design a propulsion system. In industry, there are avenues for getting involved with combustion systems from all of these fields.

    I personally don't know what a person with an engineering physics degree actually does, so I can't help you there. An AE would probably model the nozzle and do a thermal analysis, they'd probably also work with designers in coming up with the nozzle shape (as well as the ME's for any throttling capabilities).
  4. Sep 24, 2013 #3
    If you're going into something that specific, the thing you want is practical experience and skills. For the theory background, AE is a good major for that because of all of the fluid mechanics you'll learn and if you get some tech electives, take some more related to your interests.

    One big thing is to find out where you'd like to work and try to get an internship there. You might try places like JPL or Sandia National Labs. Along with learning about what they do there, you'll learn to network with people and learn job-specific skills that will be a plus when you finish with school and want a job.
  5. Sep 24, 2013 #4


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    And if you want to work on the bleeding edge, you'll either need a graduate degree or several years of experience in industry in order to get into research and development.
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