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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.

Hear From our Faculty

A recent faculty roundtable discussion was held with four of our Astronautical Engineering (ASTE) Faculty members – Dr. Mike Gruntman, Dr. Dan Erwin, and Dr. Garrett Reisman, and Prof. Dave Barnhart. This roundtable will discuss what the major is, the courses each faculty teach, research they conduct and the discipline of  join us to discuss the courses they teach, the research they conduct, and the discipline of Astronautical Engineering at USC Viterbi

ASTE On The Podcast

ASTE Student Blog

Learn More about Astronautical Engineering (ASTE) at USC through our student blog. These posts were written by USC Viterbi ASTE students during their time at USC to help you better understand the discipline and their life.


Doing Astronomically Awesome Things in Astronautical Engineering

Whenever people ask me what I am studying, they are most definitely never expecting me to say "astronautical engineering". With…
Kaleigh RayKaleigh Ray

Astronautical Engineering: A Major so Nice, I’m Doing it Twice!

Why I Decided to Major in Astronautical Engineering for my Undergraduate and Masters Degree Hello! I’m Nick Espalin-Pardo. I’m a…
Nicholas Espalin-PardoNicholas Espalin-Pardo

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Since it's the most wonderful time of the year (registration season duh) here are some of my favorite classes that…
Kaleigh RayKaleigh Ray

NSBE’s Evening with Faculty!

Every year, the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) Chapter at USC holds an Evening with Faculty event, where faculty…
Viterbi VoicesViterbi Voices

Black Lives at USC Viterbi: Kenya’s Story

This is a guest blog entry written by Kenya Foster. If you want to read more stories, visit there!…
Timothy HarringtonTimothy Harrington


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


We have a balance of programs - theoretical, computational, and experimental – which exemplify the Viterbi School’s approach to intensive and collaborative 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. 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 Liquid Propulsion Laboratory is focused on designing liquid-propelled rocket engines. The Rocket Propulsion Laboratory designs and builds solid-fueled rockets. In April, 2019, it became the first student group ever to send a rocket into space.


Faculty will be teaching all of your classes and leading research projects as well. Your opportunities to build relationships with your faculty will begin immediately in your first year, both in the classroom and the lab. Check out a few highlighted professors with whom you may work in the future:

David A. Barnhart

USC Space Engineering Research Center

Professor David Barnhart research innovates solutions in aerospace and small satellite systems and technologies, new satellite design-synthesis tools to cut design time down to days from months and incorporates integration as a design tool, hybrid robotics concepts for satellites.

Dr. Lubos Brieda

Advanced Spacecraft Propulsion & Energy Lab

Dr. Brieda began assisting the Advanced Spacecraft Propulsion and Energy Lab (ASPEN) with the Asteria Thruster on top of the nuclear propulsion. This research focuses on producing solid fuel adamantane thruster to be fitted on a satellite design.

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.

ASTE Dept. Website


Your engineering undergraduate degree will prepare you for many career and academic opportunities.

Your future with a degree in Astronautical Engineering can see you pursue a number of future career paths at companies serving a variety of industries.

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.

Design rocket vehicles

Build space instrumentation and sensors

Design, build, and test satellites

Conduct government research

Conduct government research

Become a researcher at a university or government research center

Success After Graduation

 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


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

Next-gen Spacecraft and Satellites

The Space Engineering Research Center (SERC) faculty and students conduct research on disruptive new technology in spacecraft and satellites.

Imagine yourself on campus.

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

Viterbi Voices


At the Viterbi School of Engineering, our students can do it all. From start-ups to research, everything is available to them to bring their dreams to life and succeed post graduation. See what our alumni have to say about the Viterbi program.

More Engineering Disciplines

This area of the Viterbi School is just one of the many areas of Engineering & Computer Science.  Beyond this area of study, we have ten academic disciplines spread across eight departments to make up more than thirty majors and areas of emphasis. Take some time to explore all of your interests before you apply by clicking on any area below.

Aerospace & Mechanical Engineering

Design for Movement.

Astronautical Engineering

Build for Beyond.

Biomedical Engineering

Help Others Live Better.

Chemical Engineering

Make the Stuff of Tomorrow.

Civil & Environmental Engineering

Design. Build. Improve.

Computer Science

It’s Way More Than Coding.

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Power Up.

Industrial & Systems Engineering

Engineering Better Businesses.

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