Every time I search for "aeronautical engineering" on Google I see a few results about aerospace engineering. So they must be similar, but what is different about these careers?

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    $\begingroup$ If you're looking for a career/college path, I would just caution you about limiting your opportunities. A nuclear engineer can only find work on nuclear plants, aero on aircraft, etc., but a mechanical engineer can work on all of them. It boils down to what exactly you want to do. If you don't know the difference in roles between mech and aero on an aircraft, just that you want to work on aircraft, I would suggest staying general in courses until you have an opportunity to co-op or intern to try out the jobs. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck
    Sep 11 '15 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Chuck I'm a ME. When I was an undergrad, I had a great interest in aerospace, but I justified not studying aerospace engineering instead of ME in much the same way. Then when I was right out of my undergrad program, I interviewed with several aerospace companies and one of the common interview questions was "If you wanted to work in aerospace, why didn't you major in aerospace engineering?" $\endgroup$
    – DLS3141
    Sep 11 '15 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DLS3141 "I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life as a 19 year-old" is a perfectly valid answer to fluff questions like that. But more likely they wanted you to talk about how your interest developed. $\endgroup$
    – Air
    Sep 11 '15 at 15:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Air I suppose, if my background were such that I had entered engineering college right out of high school. However, I didn't start on my BSME until I was 27 and I graduated at the ripe old age of 30 (Yes, I did it in 3yr.). But for most recent grads, "I didn't know what I wanted to do at 18/19" is a good response $\endgroup$
    – DLS3141
    Sep 11 '15 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Chuck there's no way I will have any other career except for an aerospace engineer. Check my aviation account and look at how many questions I have asked. I personally want to be the person desiging airliners. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Sep 11 '15 at 17:49

A space engineer deals with objects in space: from satellites, space stations, space vehicles and space probes to space debris. Space means high launch vibrations, vacuum, radiation concerns, high temperature gradients and extremes, complex trajectories, next to no maintenance (meaning: built in redundancy)...

An aeronautical engineer deals with objects in the air, but not in space (space is commonly considered to start at 100km of altitude): mainly all types of airplanes and helicopters, but balloons and missiles fall under that category too. Aeronautics generally means cost effectiveness (mass produced), challenging mechanisms (in terms of performance and reliability over time, may mean redundancy), complex computational fluid dynamics, high stresses on the wings...

"Aerospace" is a mix of both. Since they are so different, I wouldn't say an aerospace engineer is worth a space engineer and an aeronautical engineer. Different fields, different skills, but such engineers particularly come in handy for the launchers, especially the new generation of renewable ones that fly (e.g. Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo, or Skylon).

Source: I'm a space engineer specialised in mechatronics. I have never worked in the aeronautics industry.


Technically, aeronautical engineers only deal with things inside Earth's atmosphere, while aerospace engineers may also deal with spaceflight. However, in practice the two terms are essentially interchangeable - you will want to look at each job offer / university course etc in detail to see what's being offered or required.

  • $\begingroup$ Aeronautical deals with airplanes right. $\endgroup$
    – Ethan
    Sep 11 '15 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ Both deal with airplanes (and balloons, helicopters, etc). Aerospace may also deal with rockets, satellites, and space probes. However, as I said, in practice they mean the same thing. $\endgroup$
    – Lightsider
    Sep 11 '15 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ Just to insist that they do not mean the same thing. The only reason why you could see either one in either field, is that many people confuse those terms. They should really be used as you said in your "technically" definition. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 '16 at 12:44

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