Aerospace engineering is the primary branch of engineering concerned with the research, design, development, construction, testing, science and technology of aircraft and spacecraft. It is divided into two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. The former deals with aircraft that operate in Earth's atmosphere, and the latter with spacecraft that operate outside it.
Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are:
- Fluid mechanics - the study of fluid flow around objects. Specifically aerodynamics concerning the flow of air over bodies such as wings or through objects such as wind tunnels (see also lift and aeronautics).
- Astrodynamics - the study of orbital mechanics including prediction of orbital elements when given a select few variables. While few schools in the United States teach this at the undergraduate level, several have graduate programs covering this topic (usually in conjunction with the Physics department of said college or university).
- Statics and Dynamics (engineering mechanics) - the study of movement, forces, moments in mechanical systems.
- Mathematics - in particular, calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra.
- Electrotechnology - the study of electronics within engineering.
- Propulsion - the energy to move a vehicle through the air (or in outer space) is provided by internal combustion engines, jet engines and turbomachinery, or rockets (see also propeller and spacecraft propulsion). A more recent addition to this module is electric propulsion and ion propulsion.
- Control engineering - the study of mathematical modeling of the dynamic behavior of systems and designing them, usually using feedback signals, so that their dynamic behavior is desirable (stable, without large excursions, with minimum error). This applies to the dynamic behavior of aircraft, spacecraft, propulsion systems, and subsystems that exist on aerospace vehicles.
- Aircraft structures - design of the physical configuration of the craft to withstand the forces encountered during flight. Aerospace engineering aims to keep structures lightweight.
- Materials science - 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.
- Solid mechanics - Closely related to material science is solid mechanics which deals with stress and strain analysis of the components of the vehicle. Nowadays there are several Finite Element programs such as MSC Patran/Nastran which aid engineers in the analytical process.
- Aeroelasticity - the interaction of aerodynamic forces and structural flexibility, potentially causing flutter, divergence, etc.
- Avionics - the design and programming of computer systems on board an aircraft or spacecraft and the simulation of systems.
- Software - the specification, design, development, test, and implementation of computer software for aerospace applications, including flight software, ground control software, test & evaluation software, etc.
- Risk and reliability - the study of risk and reliability assessment techniques and the mathematics involved in the quantitative methods.
- Noise control - the study of the mechanics of sound transfer.
- Aeroacoustics - the study of noise generation via either turbulent fluid motion or aerodynamic forces interacting with surfaces.
- Flight test - designing and executing flight test programs in order to gather and analyze performance and handling qualities data in order to determine if an aircraft meets its design and performance goals and certification requirements.