Graduate Degrees in Space Engineering

Master’s Degree in Space Engineering

Option Representative

Joanna Austin

Options Manager

Christine Ramirez

The master’s degree program in space engineering is a one-year program that provides advanced training in the areas of aeronautics or space engineering beyond that covered in a fouryear undergraduate program. The program consists of a set of five core courses (see details below). There is no research requirement, nor is a thesis required to obtain the degree. The courses required for the master’s degree must be completed in one year.


Students whose highest qualification is a baccalaureate degree equivalent to that given by the Institute are eligible to seek admission to work toward the master’s degree. Students are asked to submit course transcripts and letters of recommendation as well as evidence of English language proficiency as detailed in the graduate application. Submission of GRE exam scores is optional for the 2022-23 admissions process in aerospace. It should be noted that the graduate program at GALCIT is primarily focused on Ph.D.-level research and so priority in admission is given to those who plan to ultimately perform Ph.D.-level research

Course Requirements

AAReST Space Mission

The space engineering class project is currently focused on the AAReST space mission. Link to further details.

A program of study consists of courses totaling at least 135 units; of these, at least 81 units must be chosen from the following curricular track:

Space Engineering track

Two 27-unit course sequences chosen from:

  • Fluid mechanics (Ae/APh/CE/ME 101 abc)
  • Solid/structural mechanics (Ae/AM/CE/ME 102abc)
  • Autonomy and control (CDS 131 or Ae103a in first term, Ae 103b in second term, and a third course selected from department list in coordination with first-year adviser), 27 units

Space engineering (Ae 105abc), 27 units

Aerospace students in either the Aeronautics or Space Engineering track are required to enroll in a sequence of mathematics courses totaling 27 units appropriate to the student’s chosen track and selected in coordination with their first-year advisers. Examples of appropriate courses include ACM/IDS 104, ACM 100ab, ACM 101ab, etc.

Examples of appropriate third courses for the Autonomy and Control sequence include Ae115, CD S232, CDS 242, CDS 244, etc.

Finally, all first-year students are required to enroll in aerospace Engineering Seminar (3 units Ae 150abc).

A grade of C or higher must be achieved in all the required classes unless they are only offered pass/fail, in which case a pass must be achieved in each class. For both the Aeronautics and Space Engineering master’s degrees, the remaining 27 units are elective and are to be chosen from courses at Caltech that support the broader goals of the respective programs, subject to the approval of the student’s adviser. Students must have a proposed program of courses approved by their adviser prior to registration for the first term of work toward the degree.

Admission to More Advanced Degrees

Students who successfully complete the requirements for the master’s degree and who wish to pursue the more advanced degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) must file a petition to continue work toward the desired degree. All students working for the Ph.D. degree are expected to register for and attend the advanced seminar (Ae 208 abc) for a period of at least two years.

Degree of Doctor of Philosophy


Students with a baccalaureate degree equivalent to that given by the Institute are eligible to seek admission to work toward the degree of doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in aeronautics or space engineering. Students are asked to submit course transcripts and letters of recommendation as well as evidence of English language proficiency as detailed in the graduate application. Submission of GRE exam scores is optional for the 2022 admissions process in aerospace.

Course Requirements

The course requirements for the first year of the Ph.D. degree are identical to those of the master’s degree. Students admitted to graduate study for the Ph.D. degree must complete in their first year a course of study that would qualify them for the master’s degree described above. The student may elect to receive the master’s degree at the end of their first year after completion of these courses.

Research Adviser

Students wishing to pursue studies leading to the Ph.D. must select and be accepted by a research adviser preferably by the end of their third quarter but no later than the end of their first year of study and prior to taking the qualifying examination described below.

Qualifying Examination

After the first year of graduate study, the student must pass a qualifying examination. The objective of the qualifying examination is to determine if the student is properly prepared and qualified to pursue problems typical of Ph.D.-level research by demonstrating fundamental understanding of the first year courses in the topic area of the exam. The exam also evaluates effective oral communication of technical material as a skill that is required for professional development.

The exam will cover the following subjects:

Space Engineering track. Two areas chosen from:

  • Fluid mechanics
  • Solid/structural mechanics
  • Autonomy and control


The material covered in these examinations is at the same general level and breadth as covered in the corresponding first-year courses. The examinations are typically offered during one week in the first half of the fall term, in the second year of graduate residence at the Institute. A student is examined orally on all topics. In the event of an unsatisfactory performance, the examining faculty members may permit a repeat examination in the appropriate topics. The repeat examination must be scheduled prior to finals week of the winter term and must be completed before the end of the spring term of the same year.

Graduate Teaching Assignment Duties

GALCIT provides opportunities to students to improve their teaching and communication skills that are valuable in many contexts. Ph.D. students are required to perform a minimum of 18 term hours of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) duties within the aerospace Department during their terms of residence. GTA duties will be assigned after the first year in residence and will be based on courses a student has completed.


To be recommended for candidacy for the Ph.D. in aerospace, the applicant must

  • have satisfactorily completed at least 135 units of graduate work equivalent to the above Master of Science program;
  • pass, with a grade of C or better, 27 units of graduate-level mathematics courses beyond ACM 95/100, and ACM/IDS 104;
  • complete (with a grade of C or better, or Pass) at least 45 units of aerospace courses numbered Ae 200 or higher, or Ae/ME 118, Ae/ME 120, EE/Ae 157, Ae 159, Ae/Ge/ME 160 and Ae/CE 165ab, excluding research and seminars;
  • and
  • complete three units of the advanced seminar Ae 208

A proposed program conforming to the above regulations must be approved by the student’s adviser and the option representative prior to add day of the first term of work toward the degree.

In addition to fulfilling these course requirements, the applicant must pass a candidacy examination in the third year of residence at the Institute. This exam should be administered by the start of the second quarter of the third year of residency. This examination aims at determining whether the student is successful in integrating formal course work into a mature understanding of fundamental engineering concepts, and at demonstrating his or her professional competence in applying these concepts to the problems being addressed in the course of their Ph.D. research.


No minor is required for the Ph.D. degree. Students are, however, encouraged to take advanced courses appropriate to their particular interests or pursue a minor in consultation with their adviser.

Foreign Languages

The student is encouraged to discuss with his or her adviser the desirability of studying foreign languages, but there is no formal foreign language requirement for the Ph.D.

Thesis and Final Examination

Prior to graduation, each candidate is required to give a seminar presenting the results of his or her thesis research. For final examination and thesis completion, see also the general degree requirements and the section on Examinations, Committees, and Student Responsibilities regarding aerospace. For a description of the Institute requirements for conferral of a Ph.D. see Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Subject Minor

A student majoring in a field other than aerospace may, with the approval of the option representative, elect aerospace as a subject minor. A minimum of 54 units in subjects acceptable to the aerospace faculty is required.

Problem and Grievance Resolution within Aerospace

Students may pursue several avenues for redress concerning personal and academic problems that may arise during their residency, as outlined by the Student Problem Resolution Process described earlier in the catalog. Should a student not wish to discuss the relevant issues with their adviser, the option representative and/or the director are always available to meet with the student. In addition, two other resources are available, one at the student and one at the faculty level. A student representative is elected annually by the aerospace graduate students at or after the Information Session, which is part of Ae 150. In the event that the student representative has completed his or her Ph.D. studies before the election date and left the Institute, the student organizer for Ae 150 may be his or her replacement. A faculty member chosen by the aerospace faculty to provide support for the students is available for student contact. The names of the current student and faculty support persons are available in the aerospace office.

Educational Exchange Program with École Polytechnique

An educational exchange program is offered by the aerospace option with École Polytechnique (EP). In this exchange program, students selected for participation from Caltech will enroll for one year at EP. Correspondingly, students selected for the program from EP will enroll for one year at Caltech. To be eligible to participate, aerospace students must have completed one full year of study (for Caltech students this is equivalent to the requirements for the M.S. degree) and agree that they will spend one full year at EP. First year (G1) graduate students enrolled in Caltech’s doctoral aerospace program will be apprised of the opportunity to participate in an educational exchange program at the master’s level at EP. A maximum of two student(s) will be selected by the aerospace faculty from the pool of students who express interest in this program. Caltech students will follow their first (master’s) year at Caltech, and their second year in the second-year master’s (M2) program at EP. Caltech students must fulfill the requirements of their first-year program and receive their Caltech M.S. diploma prior to proceeding to EP.

Caltech students must register at Caltech during the year spent at École Polytechnique and enroll in the special topics course Ae 240 – Educational exchange at École Polytechnique. This ensures that they maintain their standing as enrolled graduate students at Caltech. It is implied that classes taken at one institution cannot duplicate classes already taken at the other institution. The expectation is that Caltech students will return to Caltech after completing the EP program and continue with their doctoral studies at Caltech. Caltech students should be prepared to take the qualifying exams in the fall term when they return from EP. Caltech students participating in the Caltech/EP educational exchange program will be considered to be on detached duty from Caltech while at EP. A detached duty agreement will be executed for each student that spells out the terms and requirements for the detached duty.