Ever since mankind first launched a rocket into the stars, engineers have been on the forefront of space exploration. From the latest missions and technologies to materials development and manufacturing, aerospace engineers consistently have an impact on the way we might live and travel tomorrow with the work they do today. Already their contributions have been massive, and while some engineering concepts may seem to be impossible, within the next few years ideas we hold to be science fiction very well may become a part of our daily lives.
What is Aerospace Engineering?
Engineers in the space sector design, build and maintain systems and spacecraft. They also develop and test aircraft, satellites and missiles. They are responsible for the innovations that contribute to future space travel.
Aerospace Engineering Trends:
With the recent innovations of Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain technology, 3D printing and nanotechnology, two key trends have emerged in the aerospace engineering field: a decrease in launch costs and an increased capability of small satellites.
Due to the advancements in materials engineering and 3D printing, the cost of materials has significantly decreased. This has had a ripple effect on launch costs and the entire space industry. With these innovations, spacecraft have experienced a notable decrease in the weight of materials which has resulted in billions of dollars saved on the cost of fuel needed for launch. The reduction in launch costs has increased interest in smaller satellites.
Small satellites are taking the stars by storm; in fact, 94% of all spacecraft launches in the past 10 years have been small satellites. With the advances in 3D printing, engineers are now able to troubleshoot these satellites from space and the process is easier than ever before. These satellites are staying in orbit longer and are able to gather more intricate data.
Newest Aerospace Engineering Innovations:
James Webb Space Telescope
Named “Innovation of the Year” in 2022, this telescope has been in the works for two decades and took 9.7 billion dollars to make. It is three times more effective than the Hubble Telescope. It sits hundreds of thousands of miles further away from the earth than the Hubble Telescope, in earth’s shadow. This telescope will never see sunlight. The atmosphere around it lands at a chilly -370 degrees Fahrenheit and this machine is protected by a shield thinner than a human fingernail. Amazingingly, this telescope can view forming star clusters, galaxies in their infancy, and peer back twelve billion years to what may have been the formation of our own Milky Way.
Parallel Reality by Delta
If at any point you’ve found yourself scrambling at an airport, trying to find the information for your flight on a screen, this technology is here to change that. At Detroit Metro airport, an installation of Parallel Reality can now show passengers individualized information. Imagine looking at the overhead screen in a flight terminal and only seeing the information for your flight. A scan of your boarding pass in McNamara Terminal is one way the system can tell who you are and will only show you personalized information from there on out. The technology works because the pixels in the screens shine in 18,000 directions, enabling multiple people to see different information on the same screen at the same time.
DART by NASA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
If you’ve ever worried that an asteroid might collide with earth and cause the apocalypse, you can begin to put your fears to rest. While this concept has been popular in the movies, engineers and scientists are working to make this science fiction. On September 26th, 2022 a 1,100 lb spacecraft intentionally collided with an asteroid at 14,000 MPH. NASA confirmed that this collision redirected the asteroid, the first time this has been accomplished in space. This shows that we may be able to do this in the future, should we be worried an asteroid or meteor is heading for earth.
Starliner by Boeing
Boening’s much awaited Starliner finally took flight from Florida in an uncrewed test and made it safely to the International Space Station and then returned to earth. They are now looking to launch the first crewed flight this year (2023). This will be the first time NASA has more than one option to get astronauts to the International Space Station.
What does the future of aerospace engineering hold?
There is no doubt that this field of work will continue to be a steady source for high paying careers in the future. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, aerospace engineering will grow 6% through 2031. Innovations in aerospace engineering will change the future of how we travel and the information we have about the future of our planet. While some of this technology seems like something out of the movies, it will most likely become a reality within the next decade.
Urban Air Mobility
This technology looks to provide a new form of transportation for urban areas. This is a new focus of aerospace that involves the use of small, electric, vertical take-off and landing aircraft to transport passengers and cargo. This is being done with the hopes of reducing congestions and to provide more effective and fast transportation.
This is an emerging market in the aerospace industry where private companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic are developing programs that will allow civilians to travel into space. The concept is to offer programs that will allow passengers to experience zero gravity flight as well as view earth from orbit.
Aerospace engineers are on the forefront of technology that quite literally enables us to reach the stars. Most likely in the next decade, the contributions of these engineers will change how we travel, our understanding of the history of our planet, and how we plan to build our future. This market is only growing with new ideas and careers in this field will expand substantially. At every level, space exploration is dependent on engineers for new and improved technology that will build a better tomorrow.