Home Science NASA’s electric plane is preparing to fly—here’s how it advances emissions-free aviation

NASA’s electric plane is preparing to fly—here’s how it advances emissions-free aviation

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Credit: NASA

experimental plane X-57, Developed by NASA, will fly for the first time this year. Along the wings are his impressive 14 propellers, powered entirely by electricity. This is great considering the growing demand for aviation despite having to use fossil fuels. But how close will NASA’s planes bring us to this goal?

find an alternative to aviation Fuel, such as kerosene, is key if you want to keep flying. Using the X-57 Lithium battery Run electric motor for that reason propellerBut the energy you get from a battery is 1/50th of the energy you get relative to its weight. aviation fuel.

The X-57 is a modified four-seat Italian-made aircraft. Tecnam P2006T aircraftIt relies on a combination of numerous propellers, small motors and numerous batteries spread throughout the aircraft. “Decentralized Promotion”This approach represents an exciting area of ​​research and development found in many experimental electric aircraft designs.

What makes the X-57 different is the wing has been completely redesigned with propellers positioned to optimize airflow around the wing.When propeller is not required. Blades can be folded to reduce drag.

In general, propeller technology is being reborn.Design is becoming more than just a thing more efficientNot only is it less noisy, it’s more affordable. The propeller speed and pitch angle can also be changed during flight to adapt to different aircraft speeds required for takeoff, landing, and cruising.

Air density varies with altitude and affects the thrust available from the propeller. Now that you can create propellers that work effectively at all altitudes and speeds, you can make the most of the energy stored in your batteries.New designs such as his 11 blades for the first time ever Propeller (Piper Cheyenne in an airplane), which can achieve very high thrust even with high air densities.

Some aircraft use “vector thrust” by rotating motors and propellers, giving them the option of vertical take-off and landing. These aircraft could resemble helicopters more than airplanes, and traditional airports with long runways and large terminals could be a thing of the past.

battery technology

The X-57 uses a commercially available lithium-ion battery. This is because the project is primarily concerned with new propeller and wing configuration possibilities rather than the development of a complete battery.

X-57: NASA's electric plane is preparing for flight.

The X-57 during testing in 2019. Credit: NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center TV / Steve Parcel

However, this will be a significant challenge for electric aircraft developers to overcome. The lithium battery is the best one yet, but it’s still heavy. Lithium metal is also dangerous because it ignites easily.

There are advantages to using batteries. Its weight remains constant during flight, so it does not need to be stored on the wing like traditional aviation fuel.When liquid fuelthe weight of the plane decreases significantly as the fuel is consumed, and keeping the fuel in the wings ensures that the balance of the aircraft remains unchanged.

But it really energy density— the amount of energy contained in a battery compared to its weight or size — this is important. New technologies are constantly being developed, such as batteries that apply quantum technology.but between these Charges faster than regular batteries they do not exchange Lithium battery It is unlikely to change the outlook for electric flight.

What we are really waiting for is a revolution in battery technology. energy density Comparable to aviation fuel.

Is the X-57 the future?

with a range of about 160 km Flight time It is not believed that the X-57 will lead to an alternative technology for long-range flight. at least soon. Alternatively, short-haul flights with 10 or so passengers might be good targets for early battery-powered flights.

Hydrogen-powered aircraft are also of great interest, as the energy density of hydrogen is about three times that of conventional aviation fuel. However, hydrogen is a gas and must be stored under pressure. fuel tank to reduce its volume.

This should be completely reconsidered aircraft design. Several studies have been performed using hydrogen stored as a liquid at -253°C. for aeronautical hydrogen So exciting, but perhaps unrealistic.

Synthetic fuels are a ready-to-use alternative to aviation fuels, but they are more expensive. Perhaps as technology develops they will get cheaper, but the cost of flying could increase as we move away from fossil fuels. Batteries will almost certainly power short-haul flights in the near future. . battery technology Then the future of aviation will be completely changed.

Ultimately, we’ll be faced with an ultimatum: figure out how to build an airplane we don’t need. Fossil fuelor stop flying.

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Quote: X-57: NASA’s Electric Airplane Prepares for Flight—How We’re Advancing Emission-Free Aviation (31 Jan 2023), 1 Feb 2023 at https:// techxplore.com/news/2023-01-x-nasa-electric-plane-flyhere.html

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