A Galactic Perspective

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CU engineering students are getting an “out of this world” education from two former astronauts now serving on the faculty in aerospace engineering sciences.

Astronauts Jim Voss, who received his master’s in aerospace engineering at CU-Boulder in 1974 and an honorary doctorate in 2000, and Joe Tanner, a graduate of the University of Illinois, bring 43 years of combined experience at NASA, including nine spaceflights, 11 spacewalks, and more than eight months of total time in space.

Voss and Tanner are teaching graduate and undergraduate students, advising students in hands-on design projects, and helping to advance the graduate program in bioastronautics led by Professor David Klaus.

“At first, talking to Joe and knowing he was an astronaut, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really impressive,’” says CU graduate student Christine Fanchiang. “Then, when we had a lot of questions about the space shuttle, I came to realize how helpful it really is to have him and Jim as advisors.”

Fanchiang is working with other students to develop a software package that optimizes the arrangement of life support and other components vital to astronaut operations in a spacecraft. The work is part of a research partnership CU-Boulder has with Sierra Nevada Space Systems, which is designing and building a manned spacecraft called the Dream Chaser intended to replace the space shuttle for transporting humans and cargo into low-Earth orbit.

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Why study at CU-Boulder?

CU-Boulder is the place for aerospace.  From conceptualizing to planning, building and creation, student teams apply engineering concepts in hands-on design courses and consistently win national awards. Through independent study, students can impact the real world by helping to develop hardware for payloads that carry experiments to the International Space Station, participating in Mission Operations, or designing and building satellites for launch.  Students learn leadership skills and are exposed to project management and systems engineering while working on complex aerospace engineering projects.  Extracurricular activities like the Design, Build, Fly competition and the Colorado Space Grant Consortium provide additional opportunities to explore real-world applications of your aerospace engineering major. Students also can participate in the student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics on campus and in the group CU Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Eighteen CU-Boulder affiliates have flown in space as NASA astronauts, making CU one of the nation’s top five non-military schools for producing astronauts. In 2010 the National Research Council ranked the aerospace PhD program among the top four in the nation, and the FAA chose CU-Boulder for a Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.   An innovative idea for a hybrid engine went from undergraduate project to an incubated company through eSpace, the Center for Space Entrepreneurship, which is dedicated to commercializing new technologies for space.

Research Opportunities

Aerospace engineering faculty have been highly successful in winning grants for their research, which provides exciting opportunities for students to be involved in such projects as the Dream Chaser next-generation crew vehicle being developed by Sierra Nevada Corp., and DANDE, a student-designed small satellite that won a national competition.  CU-Boulder aerospace chairs launched the Aerospace Systems Science and Engineering Initiative, a college-wide enterprise allowing faculty and students from many disciplines to focus on technology development to solve critical problems in the Earth and space sciences. 

Research in the department is organized into four focus areas: aerospace engineering systems; astrodynamics and satellite navigation systems; bioastronautics; and remote sensing, Earth, and space sciences. Coursework in these focus areas can satisfy technical and/or design elective requirements for undergraduate students, while independent study and undergraduate research opportunities complement the curriculum. Graduate students are admitted into a specific focus area, which provides research advising, financial support, and sets specialized admission and program requirements. 

Where do CU graduates work?

CU aerospace engineering graduates work within the private-sector aerospace industry or for federal government agencies such as NASA, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Air Force. Many CU graduates can be found at companies such as ATK, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and the United Launch Alliance. A number of small start-up companies in the aerospace industry also hire CU grads.

About 20 percent of CU-Boulder engineering bachelor’s graduates (college-wide) continue onto graduate school, gaining admittance to top schools such as MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, University of California Berkeley, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Job Outlook

Employment for aerospace engineers is projected to have an average growth rate, with employment projected to increase 7 to 13 percent through 2018. New graduates continue to be needed due to the retirement of current aerospace engineers.  (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Starting Salary

The average entry-level salary nationally for aerospace engineers in 2010 was $60,620; CU-Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering sciences reported an average starting offer of $56,086.

Important Announcements

CUEngineering:  A publication for alumni and friends. Read the 2016 edition of CUEngineering magazine here.

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