Blastoff! Mechanical Engineering launches aerospace program

Aerospace is hot and Colorado needs degreed engineers.

So, when students and industry came calling, the Department of Mechanical Engineering answered with an aerospace research program backed by nearly 60 years of experience, more than $16 million in related research funding, and four robust academic programs.

In 2020, the department began enrolling its first students in an undergraduate concentration in aerospace engineering. On Colorado Free Application Day, more than 50% of students applying to the department expressed interest in the program.

This fall, the department added its full portfolio of courses, which now includes three graduate programs: a certificate, Master of Engineering, and Master of Science in mechanical engineering with an aerospace engineering specialization. To accommodate working professionals, the certificate and Master of Engineering degree are also available online.

Photo collage of aerospace engineering equipment
Newly acquired equipment for the program includes a wind tunnel with high-speed camera (left), expanded large wind tunnel capabilities (center), Brayton cycle jet engine (right), cold gas thruster testing stand, and Stirling engine

“Since launching the aerospace engineering program, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from aerospace companies and students,” said Ellen Plese, Manager of Strategic Planning and Operations for the mechanical engineering department. Plese brings more than 30 years of experience and contacts from her work in the rocket industry at General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and United Launch Alliance.

The propulsion niche

The department has a long history of aerospace research programs, beginning in 1965 with the Electric Propulsion and Plasma Engineering Laboratory. Since then, mechanical engineering researchers have established a rich aerospace-focused portfolio with more than $16 million in grants. Sponsors include NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, United States Air Force, National Science Foundation, Woodward, Lockheed Martin, and others.

More than 70 percent of aerospace research in the department is focused on propulsion – a niche that is an area of strength for CSU. Propulsion research leverages the department’s reputation in energy, pulling from expertise in advanced propulsion, combustion and fuels, computational methods, emission and air quality, and renewable energy. Faculty executing these grants teach related courses in propulsion, fluid dynamics, aerospace structures, and aerospace materials and manufacturing.

The social network

Photo showing the CSU Ram Rocketry team posing with their liquid-fueled rocket
CSU Ram Rocketry Team with their liquid-fueled ARIES III rocket at the Spaceport America Cup Competition. Photo Credit: Anthony Marchese

Clubs and events hosted within the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering offer additional opportunities for students, introducing them to aerospace industry connections and providing experiences through a collection of lectures, seminars, and competitions.

Student organizations include the CSU Ram Rocketry Team, Students for the Exploration and Discovery of Space (SEDS), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) student branch.

Throughout the 2021 – 2022 academic year, the AIAA student branch is co-hosting monthly Aerospace Technology Innovation Talks on campus. Industry experts will present on topics including space vehicles, advanced aircraft, and hypersonic flight. The series kicked off in September with Chris Deel, Vice President of Engineering and Advanced Programs for United Launch Alliance.

Colorado: An aerospace leader

With more than 33,000 people working across all aerospace sectors, Colorado has the leading aerospace employment concentration in the United States according to 2020 data from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. Aerospace engineering graduates are in high demand and are an important resource to continue building this booming workforce.

In Colorado, five of the top ten employers for mechanical engineers are in the aerospace industry. The average industry salary is over $142,000.

Colorado hosts hundreds of aerospace companies working on a range of projects including spacecraft, satellites, systems, and communication. Participants in CSU’s internship program include Northrup Grumman, Ball Corporation, United Launch Alliance, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Sierra Nevada, Raytheon Technologies, and Woodward.