Where do we pull the boundary between aviation and the space exploration beta? We've gotten a few questions on spaceshiptwo, and I'd imagine it's only a question of time before stuff comes up on the space shuttle, and not only the landing but the launch at well.

What stays within the scope? Space Exploration always sounds like such an interplanetary affair, while aviation sounds like it would be within earth, but what about these borderline things?


In my mind, "we'll know it when we see it."

In general terms I would say that if it is operating in the atmosphere and/or discussing aerodynamic principles, then it is on topic here. Even questions about a rocket/space vehicle would be on topic as it pertains to launch and the portion of the flight that it is within our atmosphere.

That being said, specific launch questions may get better answers over at space exploration than here because that is more of their focus. Other questions may be more general aerodynamic type questions that we can answer better. Some will fit well on either site.

In short, I think that we need to take it on a case-by-case basis.


I think it's more intent than a hard altitude limit:

  • If the intent of the flight is to leave the planet/atmosphere (either orbiting a satellite or traveling to another planet/star/moon) it's "Space Exploration".
  • If the intent of the flight is to stay on/around Earth, within our atmosphere it's "Aviation".

As for what defines our atmosphere, in my mind I would say once you've left the mesosphere(around 250,000 feet) you're past the line - the mesosphere is roughly the like between "You can fly aircraft here" (they have to be rocket-powered aircraft though) and "You can place things into orbit here".

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this. Even if the intent is to leave the atmosphere, aerodynamic principles govern it while at lower altitudes just like any other aircraft, and questions about that would be very much on topic here. Once it leaves the atmosphere and those principles no longer apply, it belongs over on Space Exploration. $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 20 '14 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger In my view Aerodynamics is a field that has some overlap (it's applicable to both space exploration and aviation), but that doesn't mean an Apollo capsule or the ships that brought the Mars rovers to that planet are "aircraft" - they're "spacecraft". Everything about them was fundamentally designed to get out of the atmosphere and operate in space (possibly with a re-entry). Of course if we launch an interplanetary Cessna I'd be happy to discuss that aircraft in an "aviation" context $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 20 '14 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ As you say, there is overlap, and like I said in my answer, the aerodynamic questions could be asked on either site, so I agree with this comment! $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Mar 20 '14 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ yeah it's not so much the aerodynamics questions I mind (though I think they might get better answers on the Space site) - it's stuff about the actual vehicles (which we could probably answer with the overlap between aviation geeks & space geeks, but why steal Space's thunder?). The shuttles during re-entry/landing would be a notable exception to this though since at that point it's basically a really bad glider, and a similar argument can probably be made for the Virgin Galactic vehicles... $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Mar 20 '14 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ The problem with mixing space and aviation is that it opens the door to ambiguity. The principles of flight do not necessarily apply to space travel. I feel like mixing spacecraft with aviation simply because they pass through the atmosphere to get to space would be like going to a question site for boating and talking about how float-planes fly because they takeoff from the water. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen May 11 '16 at 16:04

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