Astronautical Engineering

Astronautical engineers design, build, and operate space vehicles for exploration and applications beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This program prepares students for engineering careers in the space and defense industries, space research, development, and operations in industry and government centers and laboratories, as well as for graduate study.

The astronautical engineering (ASTE) program provides the fundamentals of science and engineering, specialized courses in astronautics, and technical electives to broaden as well as deepen the coursework.  ASTE students learn spacecraft and launch vehicle design and operations, propulsion, orbital mechanics, spacecraft dynamics and control, navigation, instrumentation and sensors, and much more.


Astronautical Engineers are the experts in space exploration and building rockets.

Astronautical Engineering

Whether your interest is propulsion, flight, composites, or design, the ASTE curriculum gives you the fundamental mechanical basis and the depth in the field of deep space exploration.  Some classes to highlight include Introduction to Astronautics taken freshmen year, Space Mission Design, Astronautics and Space Environment, and Spacecraft Dynamics!

Course Plan

Career Options

When you graduate with a degree in astronautical engineering, here are just a few of the future career paths that might lay before you.

  • Design rocket vehicles
  • Design, build, and test satellites
  • Operate unmanned spacecrafts and probes
  • Build space instrumentation and sensors
  • Conduct government research
  • Lead space operations
  • Become a researcher at a university or government research center


USC Rocket Lab is shooting to be the first student group to pass the Karman line into space.

USC Rocket propulsion laboratory is a completely student run group on campus that designs and builds rockets.  Students learn all the machining skills and mechanical principles in the shop, and travel out to the desert to test the rockets they create.

Research Highlights

The Department of Astronautical Engineering is at the center of exciting and innovative research in spacecraft and space exploration, from basic science to new ways of designing and integrating spacecraft.  ASTE operates world-class research facilities such as the Collaborative High Altitude Flow Facility (CHAFF) space simulation chamber, a six-meter cryogenically cooled chamber capable of testing propulsion systems in high vacuum.

Astronautical engineering students can engage in research under faculty guidance as early as freshman year.  In addition, ASTE has several ongoing hands on student projects.  The Microsatellite Project designs and builds CubeSats, small spacecraft approximately the size of a loaf of bread.  The Rocket Propulsion Laboratory designs and builds solid-fueled rockets.  Its goal is to be the first student group ever to send a rocket to 100 km altitude.  The Lunar Lander group builds subscale models of landing craft.  These use jet engines for primary thrust and auxiliary thrusters for altitude and sideways motion.  The goal is to demonstrate fully autonomous liftoff, travel, and landing.

Companies Hiring Astronautical Engineers

  • Aerospace Corporation
  • Boeing
  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Various government agencies
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)
  • NASA Research Centers (Glenn, Marshall, Johnson)
  • Raytheon
  • SpaceX
  • Virgin Galactic
  • And Many More!

#ViterbiClass: Astronautical Engineering

Meet a few current Astronautical Engineering students and faculty, learn about what Astronautical Engineers study, hear why students choose to study Astronautical Engineering, and see the research and career opportunities available here at Viterbi!

Listen to the Podcast

Don’t just take our word for it

Find out what current students have to say by heading over to

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Have questions? Ask a Viterbi Admission staff member!