Astronautics, or
astronautical
engineering, is the branch of
aerospace engineering that deals with
machines designed to exit or work entirely beyond the
Earth's atmosphere. In other words, it is
the science and technology of
space
flight.
Overview
The term
astronautics was coined by analogy with
aeronautics. As there is a certain degree of
technology overlapping between the two fields, the term
aerospace is often used to describe them
both.
As with aeronautics, the restrictions of mass, temperatures, and
external forces require that applications in space survive extreme
conditions: high-grade
vacuum, the
radiation bombardment of
interplanetary space, the
magnetic belts of
low Earth orbit.
Space launch vehicles must withstand titanic
forces, while
satellites can experience
huge variations in temperature in very brief periods. Extreme
constraints on mass cause astronautical engineers to face the
constant need to save mass in the design in order to maximize the
actual
payload that
reaches
orbit.
History
The early history of astronautics is theoretical: the fundamental
mathematics of space travel was established by
Isaac Newton in the 17th century in his
treatise
Principia. Other mathematicians,
such as
Euler and
Lagrange also made essential
contributions in the 18th and 19th centuries. In spite of this,
Astronautics did not become a practical discipline until the
mid-20th century. On the other hand, the question of space flight
tickled the literary imaginations of such figures as
Jules Verne and
HG
Wells.
At the beginning of the 20th century,
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky derived the
famous
rocket equation, the
governing
equation for a
rocket-based propulsion. This equation makes it
possible to compute the final velocity of a rocket from the mass of
spacecraft(m_1), combined mass of propellant and spacecraft (m_0)
and exhaust velocity of the propellant (v_e).
\Delta v\ = v_e \ln \frac {m_0} {m_1}
For more information on the mathematical basis of space travel, see
space mathematics.
By the
early 1920s, the American Robert Goddard was developing liquid-fueled
rockets, which would in a few brief decades
become a critical component in the designs of such famous rockets
as the V-2 and Saturn
V.
Sub-disciplines
Although many regard Astronautics itself as a rather specialized
subject, engineers and scientists working in this area must be
knowledgeable about many distinct fields of knowledge.
Related fields of study
See also
References