Without astronautical engineers, Neil Armstrong would never have made it to the moon, ‘Houston’ would be inundated with all kinds of ‘problems’, and Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum would never have been able to successfully plant that computer virus in that alien mothership in Independence Day.
Astronautical engineers use their technical nous, practical skills and expert scientific knowledge to design, develop, research, test, tweak, adjust and upgrade sophisticated and complex engineering solutions, such as space shuttles, space launch vehicles, satellites, rockets, space capsules and planetary probes.
Astronautical engineers often take on specialist roles, focusing on a specific sub-category of the astronautical engineering remit, such as electrical and electronic engineering, spacecraft design, structural engineering, software engineering for automation and guidance purposes, or propulsion systems.
Others focus their efforts on concepts such as space weather or astrodynamics.
The majority of opportunities are available with manufacturers of spacecraft, space agencies and executive agencies that focus on scientific research and engineering projects.
Alternatively, you could find work with an advanced research and development centre or a higher education institution in a purely research-focused role.
Salary & benefits
Trainee astronautical engineers tend to earn between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum, while professionals with more experience can earn between £30,000 and £42,000 a year.
Senior members of staff can earn up to £70,000 and beyond.
Employees in the commercial sector and professionals with advanced qualifications, such as an MEng, MSc or PhD, tend to receive the highest salaries.
Given the complex, technical nature of the job, you may be required to work long hours. The average working day lasts between ten and 12 hours.
You might also need to do extra work during critical periods, especially on deadline-driven projects.
To break into this line of work, a degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering would be a great bonus.
However, you could also enter this profession with a degree in another relevant subject, such as physics, astrophysics, maths, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering or electronic engineering.
It’s also a great idea to get some work experience under your belt before applying for entry-level jobs.
Before you can acquire chartered status, you will need to obtain a relevant postgraduate degree. However, your employer may sponsor you through this process.
Training & progression
Most employers in this area offer structured graduate development schemes, which are usually conducted over a period of two years.
These training programmes usually involve formal training sessions, rotational placements across multiple departments, and the provision of academic and financial support for gaining chartered or incorporated engineer qualifications.
Career progression is dependent on your individual performance, professional background, experience and your willingness to move across and outside the UK.
However, as you progress up the career ladder, you may take a step back from hands-on technical work. Instead, you’ll be more responsible for team management, strategy, budget control and training junior members of staff.