Astronautical Engineering

Build for Beyond

Learn more about the classes you will take in your degree program
Check out the research our faculty and students are doing on and off campus
Hear how you can apply your degree in industry through internships, co-ops, and more
Find out what our current students are up to in clubs and student organizations

Astronautical Engineering (ASTE)

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.

Listen while you scroll!

ASTE Podcast Playlist

Check out all of our podcast episodes related to Astronautical Engineering. Whether it’s Dr. Giuliano discussing plasma physics or the members of Rocket Lab analyzing their last rocket launch and their plans for making it to space, this playlist was made for you.

Viterbi Voices: The Podcast is your chance to hear stories about research, classes, student life, and more directly from our faculty, students, and other members of our engineering community. Click the link below to see the rest of our episodes!

Curriculum

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

Research

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.

We have a balance of programs - theoretical, computational, and experimental – which exemplify the Viterbi School’s approach to intensive and collaborative research.

Faculty

Astronautical Engineering faculty are doing cutting-edge research at Viterbi, and students can start doing research as quickly as their first year! Check out some of the professors you could be working with:

Dr. David Barnhart

Space Engineering Research Center

His research interests include rendezvous and proximity operations, cellular spacecraft design, and on-orbit assembly integration. He also teaches courses for hands-on experiences in tracking satellites and capstone design.

Dr. Dan Erwin

Spacecraft Propulsion and Optics

Dr. Erwin has industrial experience at Lockheed Martin, The Aerospace Corporation, and Sierra Online. He directs the Bachelor of Science program in the Astronautical Engineering Department.

Dr. Mike Gruntman

Founder of USC Astronautics Program

His research focuses on space science and technology, including studies of the heliosphere, magnetosphere, and satellite systems. He also teaches the flagship graduate course in spacecraft design!

Dr. Joseph Wang

Spacecraft Environmental Interactions

Dr. Wang's research focuses on computational and experimental investigations applied to spacecraft environmental interactions, space propulsion, spacecraft reliability, and space plasma physics.

Don't stop here.

Learn more about the cool faculty and amazing research being done at the Astronautical Engineering Department at their website:

ASTE Department WebsiteASTE Department Website

Careers

Your engineering undergraduate degree will prepare you for many career and academic opportunities. Whether you have always known “what you want to do when you grow up” or are hoping to find out, we are here to help you plan for your future beyond USC. We provide dedicated career services starting in your first year to help you find internships, co-ops, and full-time positions post graduation.

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

Don't take our word for it. Ask some Viterbi alumni:

Student Life

We want students who like to work hard – both in and out of the classroom. Our students know that going to college is more than attending class and completing assignments. College is about making connections and joining a community of dedicated students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Our students want to work and play with people as interesting as they are, and we have a number of ways for you to do the same.

Your life can be designed how you like it. Join a design team like Rocket Propulsion Laboratory. Continue your passion for volunteering with the Society of Women Engineers. Keep making art with Corpus Callosum. On this page, we have a few student organizations we think you might be interested in, but there are so many more you can get involved in!

Rocket Propulsion Lab

Design/Build/Launch

USCRPL aims to successfully launch and recover the world’s first entirely student-designed and -fabricated rocket past the Karman line, the recognized boundary of space at 100 km (328,084 ft).

Liquid Propulsion Lab

Experimental Liquid Fuels

Students design, build & test liquid propellant rocket engines, with the goal of providing members with the practical experience and skills necessary to succeed in the space industry.

Space Engineering Research Center

Lunar Lander Project

The Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) faculty and students created an Earth based testbed to evaluate landing and flight techniques for the lunar surface.

Imagine yourself on campus.

Learn more about life at USC as an engineering student at Viterbi Voices:

Viterbi VoicesViterbi Voices

More Engineering Disciplines

You just learned so much about Astronautical Engineering, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond this department, Viterbi has ten academic disciplines spread across eight departments to make up more than thirty major combinations. Take some time to explore all of your interests.

Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering

Design for Movement.

Biomedical Engineering

Help Others Live Better.

Chemical Engineering

Make the Stuff of Tomorrow.

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Design. Build. Improve.

Computer Science & Computer Engineering

It’s Way More Than Coding.

Electrical Engineering

Power Up.

Industrial & Systems Engineering

Engineer Better Businesses.

Undeclared Engineering

It’s Okay If You’re Not Sure.

Got Questions?

Send ’em over, and we will get right back to you.

Ask a Viterbi Admission staff member!
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