Letter from the Chair

Astronautical Engineering encompasses the dynamic and cutting-edge fields of advanced science and space technology. Space is increasingly important for our economy and national security as well as exploration. The United States depends on space assets more than any other nation on earth, and we lead the world in exploration and utilization of space. Space engineers design and build rockets and missiles, space launchers, communications and direct broadcasting satellites, space navigational systems, remote sensing and reconnaissance satellites, space vehicles for human spaceflight, and planetary probes. They operate complex earth-orbiting space systems and rovers on Mars from sophisticated ground control centers. There is no better academic major than Astronautical Engineering in which to obtain the education and to acquire the skills needed for space engineers.

Focused, intellectually fit, and blending the science and engineering fundamentals with specialized astronautics knowledge, Astronautical Engineering graduates are well prepared to join the space industry and government space research and development centers.

Ad Astra!
Mike Gruntman, Chairman

What is Astronautics?

Astronautics is the art or science of designing, building, and operating space vehicles (satellites, probes, and manned spaceships) for space exploration and applications.Astronautics includes space mission design; spacecraft design and space operations; rocket vehicle design; rocket propulsion; orbital mechanics; spacecraft dynamics and control; space navigation; space science; space environment; space instrumentation and sensors; and numerous other areas of space technology.

Astronautics provides the foundation for space exploration and national security and civilian applications such as space science missions; missions to the Moon and planets; manned space-flight; satellite communications; direct television broadcasting; global positioning and navigation systems; weather monitoring; space imaging; remote sensing; space reconnaissance; early detection of ballistic missile launches; verification of non-proliferation treaties; missile defense systems; and many others.

About ASTE

The Department of Astronautical Engineering (ASTE) is an academic unit of the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC. ASTE operates as an independent department and offers degree programs (Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science Minor, Master of Science, Engineer, Ph.D., Graduate Certificate) in astronautical engineering.

ASTE concentrates on meeting the educational and research needs of the space and defense industries, government research and development centers, and academia.

In order to position the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to take full advantage of rapidly growing opportunities in space, I am today announcing the creation of a new Astronautics and Space Technology Division. … Space technology and astronautics has recently re-emerged as an important sector of economic and engineering activity not only in the Southern California economy but also in the nation as a whole. Both national security applications and space exploration are driving this resurgence. However, recent congressional studies have warned of a looming shortage of engineers in this area.Dean Max Nikias of the Viterbi School, in announcing the creation of ASTE (13 August 2004)

The History of ASTE

ASTE originated within the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Southern California under the name Hypersonics and High-energy Flows Program (sometimes called Nonequlibrium Phenomena Group or Gas Physics Group). It consisted of a broad range of research interests such as hypersonic and supersonic flows, advanced spacecraft propulsion, space exploration, processes in the heliosphere and planetary magnetospheres, atomic and molecular interactions, transport of radiation, plasma and material processing, kinetic theory of gases and plasmas, environmental studies, and statistical physics.

The faculty members that originated the Hypersonics and High-energy Flows Program in 1986 were:

  • H. K. Cheng, Ph.D., Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of American Physical Society, Fellow of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
  • Daniel A. Erwin, Ph.D.
  • Joseph A. Kunc, Ph.D., Fellow of American Physical Society
  • E. Phillip Muntz, Ph.D., Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of American Physical Society, Fellow of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Three more faculty joined the program within the next ten years:

  • Mike Gruntman, Ph.D. (Current chair of the Department of Astronautical Engineering)
  • Harold Mirels, Ph.D. Member of the National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of American Physical Society, Fellow of American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
  • Donald E. Shemansky, Ph.D. (NASA Medallist for Exceptional Scientific Achievement)

ASTE was originally named the Astronautics and Space Technology Program in 1996 when the program became a distinct specialization in the Aerospace Engineering Department. Since 2004, all activities of the Program have been organized as an independent academic unit now called the Department of Astronautical Engineering.