Science and Technology


OK, now that really is rocket science!

Robert Hayes Published: July 25, 2013

That is rocket  science!  The real deal is available not too far away in New Mexico, at New Mexico State University (NMSU) over in Las Cruces.  A bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering can be obtained through their mechanical engineering department (although most of the first two years could be completed at a local community college).  It is not only GPS and weather prediction that we have come to rely on satellites for, but internet and long distance communications are all facilitated by a large satellite data information exchange rate.  Satellites clearly require rockets to be enplaced but the practice of aerospace engineering also encompasses flight designed exclusively for staying completely within our atmosphere including planes and helicopters.

In order to calculate lift to keep aircraft aloft, the Bernoulli equation can be used to explain how lift is created by an airfoil.  Still, although it is true that the fluid dynamics equations are required to calculate the amount of lift generated by any design or configuration. The basic physics, as always, can be reduced to their conceptual underpinnings.  When air goes around an airfoil, one side of the airfoil is longer than the other.  On an airplane wing for example, the top of the wing is bulged compared to the bottom.  This means that when a volume of air is split by the wing, the portion that goes over the top must travel a longer distance to recombine into the same volume at the back of the wing.  As air is not created nor destroyed in the process, the air going over the top has to be stretched in order to have the same amount of air in front of the wing as there is in the back of the wing.  Stretching the air over the top of the wing leaves more space between the air molecules right along the surface of the top of the wing.  This space is effectively a vacuum causing a suction effect on the top of the wing which does not exist on the bottom of the wing to the same extent resulting in a net lift on the airplane wing.  This is literally the lift which keeps a plane in the air.  Being able to quantify and control this lift is one portion of aerospace engineering.

When a rocket engine forces its payload into the sky, the law of conservation of momentum has to be mastered to safely execute such a mission.  In the same way that shooting a machine gun pushes you back during the continual fire of bullets, a rocket engine generates the same kind of push to do its work against gravity. If you were in ice skates on a frozen lake and were shooting a machine gun, the ejection of the bullets would continually accelerate you backwards as long as you kept shooting.  In a rocket engine, the gas being ejected from the lower nozzles of the rocket act as the bullets to push the rocket into the air with the nozzles serving to focus these gas molecule bullets into a narrow stream.

Clearly there is far more to rocket science than these few examples.  The degree offered at NMSU requires many of the same technical courses required for a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering.  This includes calculus, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, differential equations, material science, chemistry and engineering physics to name just a small handful.

With spaceport America being located just outside of Las Cruces along with the new aerospace companies looking at or actually using it, the location appears to be rather ideal.  NMSU is next to NASA’s White Sands Testing Facility as well as Spaceport America where Virgin Galactic is housed.  Virgin Galactic is literally the world’s first commercial space line and is currently selling passenger tickets.  In addition to Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America hosts UP Aerospace and Armadillo Aerospace, all right there in Los Cruces.  So I have said it before and I will say it again, that is rocket science!