The aerospace industry needs engineers with the right technical skills and applicable soft skills. Training in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering or materials, mechatronics and system integration is only the start
Aerospace engineering is a fascinating subject. It has two main branches of aeronautics and astronautics, which have sub-branches. While aeronautical engineering specialises in aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles (everything that flies within the limits of Earth’s atmosphere), astronautical engineering includes rockets, satellites, space stations, space shuttles and spacecraft that fly beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
The scope for aerospace engineering is literally beyond the stars. An aerospace engineer designs, tests, constructs and maintains aircraft and spacecraft. In India, the industry is one of the fastest growing, with civil, defence and space segments showing significant growth potential.
India’s civil aviation industry is on a high-growth trajectory due to fast economic growth in recent years and sizeable increase in real consumer spending. Airlines flew nearly 100 million passengers on domestic routes last year. The government has ushered in a new era of expansion—driven by low-cost carriers, modern airports, FDI and emphasis on regional connectivity. The air transport sector already supports eight million jobs and contributes $72 billion to the GDP.
As per the International Air Transport Association (IATA), India will displace Britain to become the third-largest aviation market with 278 million passengers by 2026. By 2035, IATA expects the Indian market to serve 442 million passengers.
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Phenomenal transformations are taking place globally with commercial space travel likely to become reality soon. Private companies, government agencies and educational institutions are collaborating to accelerate human transition into a sustainable multi-planetary species.
Moon Express, the first private company to receive permission to travel beyond Earth’s orbit, is planning its maiden lunar mission in late 2017. Bengaluru-based Team Indus—India’s first and only start-up to have received $1 million from Google Lunar XPrize last year—too seems set to create history. By the January 26, 2018, the start-up plans to land its first spacecraft on the Moon, travel at least 500 metres on its surface, and send back images and videos. Team Indus plans to put the Indian flag on the Moon’s surface on Republic Day.
The spacecraft will be launched on December 28 aboard vehicle PSLV-XL in association with ISRO. After a successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MoM), ISRO is eyeing inter-planetary missions to Jupiter and Venus. It recently created a world record by launching 104 satellites at one go on board its vehicle PSLV-C37.
The learnings will have immense benefits for oil exploration, increasing use of telemedicine in remote areas and disaster mitigation missions in emergencies. India is a strong player in space exploration and there will be a lot of opportunities for young scientists, engineers and such professionals.
There is high demand for good aerospace engineers. Job opportunities are available in airlines, helicopter companies, aviation firms, corporate research companies, the Air Force, defence ministry, HAL, ISRO, among others. Manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus also have engineering centres in India as part of their global supply chains.
While the country is home to a million engineering graduates every year, it is the industry readiness of this vast talent pool that will play a key role in creating a scalable and sustainable aerospace ecosystem.
The aerospace industry needs engineers with the right technical skills combined with applicable soft skills. A background in mechanical, electrical and electronic engineering or mechatronics, materials and system integration knowledge is only the start. To build up such an ecosystem, India needs technology and capability to cover the complete life-cycle of aerospace products encompassing R&D, engineering, manufacturing, testing and after-market services.
Engineering talent needs to be trained and exposed to international experiences to spark innovation and creative thinking. Global skills make them receptive to world-class standards of safety and quality. Indian students must strive to get such experience. The industry and government too should focus on deploying more funds for scholarships and training programmes to tackle these challenges. Industry readiness of graduates or diploma holders is vital to meet the needs of aerospace and defence industry.
Over the next two decades, aerospace engineering will extend its reach to serve societal needs domestically and globally, in areas like healthcare for remote areas, energy efficiency, alternative energy, environmental sustainability, disaster mitigation and homeland security. Future engineers will move the industry to a new level.
Industry leaders and policy-makers believe that passenger space travel will grow rapidly, creating new employment for millions of people and profoundly changing our daily life on Earth. Naturally, professional advancements will increasingly depend on the ability to succeed in international contexts.
The author is vice-president of International Affairs at the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, and advisory council member at the UN Centre for Space Science and Space Technology Education in Asia and Pacific, Dehradun