The NASA Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) Project conducts short-duration activities to establish early-stage concepts and technology feasibility for high-potential solutions. The focus is on merging traditional aeronautics disciplines with advancements driven by the non-aeronautics world to make possible new capabilities in commercial aviation.
Under CAS, several EAP activities have been undertaken and are featured below.
Compact Additively Manufactured Innovative Electric Motor (CAMIEM)
New manufacturing methods are needed to obtain innovative electric motor designs that have much higher power densities and/or efficiencies compared to the current state-of-the-art. Additive manufacturing offers the potential to radically change motor designs so that they have compact designs, multi-material components, innovative cooling, and optimally designed and manufactured components. New component designs enabled by additive manufacturing technologies will be built and tested and performance gains will be evaluated against a baseline electric motor configuration.
Design Environment for Novel Vertical Lift Vehicles (DELIVER)
The key focus of DELIVER is to demonstrate the feasibility of applying current conceptual design tools to small and novel vertical lift vehicle configurations, and to augment these tools with the most compelling technologies for usability, operability, and community acceptance of these novel vehicles. The compelling technologies examined in DELIVER are noise, autonomy/automation, and hybrid-electric propulsion systems.
Fostering Ultra Efficient Low-Emitting Aviation Power (FUELEAP)
This concept leverages technology convergence in high-efficiency Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC), high-yield fuel reformers, and hybrid-electric aircraft architectures to develop tightly integrated power system that produces electricity from traditional hydrocarbon fuels at ~2x typical combustion efficiencies. The ability to use existing infrastructure, along with compelling performance, will enable near-term adoption of electric propulsion for aircraft. This project is to establish the feasibility of an integrated heavy fuel hybrid-electric SOFC power system through safety-focused design and selected component technology maturation, using the X-57 “Maxwell” Mod 2 and Mod 4 configurations as integration baselines.
High Voltage Hybrid Electric Propulsion (HVHEP)
A challenge in implementing electric propulsion on airliners (where electricity drives the engine fan to produce thrust, rather than petroleum- based fuel being burned in a traditional jet engine) is how to make the whole power distribution system as efficient and lightweight as possible. A potential solution may be found in advances in high voltage, variable frequency drives now used on the ground, which significantly reduces the size and weight of the required equipment. At the same time, researchers will investigate the use in the power distribution system of “self-healing” insulation. The idea is that if any deterioration in a high voltage electrical line begins, the resulting exposure of the electricity to chemicals bonded in the insulation would auto- matically repair the line – reducing in-flight problems and costly ground maintenance.
Integrated Computational-Experimental Development of Lithium-Air Batteries for Electric Aircraft (LION)
The primary obstacle to enable NASA’s vision of Green Aviation is the extraordinary energy storage requirements for electric aircraft. Lithium-Air batteries have the highest theoretical energy storage capacity of any battery technology and if realized will transform the global transportation system. Lithium-Air batteries are effectively “breathing batteries”. During discharge, Oxygen is pulled into the battery to react with Lithium ions and when the battery is charged, Oxygen is expelled from the battery. A significant problem for current Lithium-Air batteries is large scale decomposition of the battery electrolyte during operation leading to battery failure after a handful of charge/discharge cycles. Therefore, development of large scale, ultra-high energy, rechargeable, and safe Lithium-Air batteries require highly stable electrolytes that are resistant to decomposition under operating conditions. A NASA led “dream team” of high-powered experts from NASA, academia, the Department of Energy and industry will integrate supercomputer modeling, fundamental chemistry analysis, advanced material science, and battery cell development to tackle this very challenging, multidisciplinary problem. The ultimate goal for the team is to discover the “design rules” for ultra-stable electrolytes for Lithium-Air batteries. The developed Lithium-Air battery will be demonstrated in an UAV flight. These high energy batteries have the potential to meet the energy storage challenges of current and future NASA aeronautics and space missions in addition to many terrestrial transportation applications.
Multifunctional Structures for High Energy Lightweight Load-bearing Storage (M-SHELLS)
Evaluates the feasibility of a structural hybrid super-capacitor concept drawn from recent nano-technology advances in both electrochemistry and microstructures to create a transformative multi-functional airframe material which carries structural load and stores energy to save weight and enable electric aeropropulsion. Multi-disciplinary engineering approach assures high energy storage and power levels, as well as good mechanical attributes.
Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR)
Evaluate the system level impacts of Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) through a rapid concept-to-flight demonstration. Distributed electric propulsion offers the ability to achieve simultaneously multi-engine redundancy safety at dramatically lower operating cost, while also accomplishing zero in flight emissions and lower community noise for shorter range missions. The primary research objective is to achieve a 5x reduction in energy required to fly at the high speed cruise condition (150 knots) to showcase the potential for electric propulsion to relate to future aviation commercial transportation. SCEPTOR has become the first official NASA X-plane in over a decade as the X-57, and at the end of this year will graduate from CAS to the IAS program FDC project. SCEPTOR has been worked across LaRC (design lead), AFRC (testing lead), and GRC (thermal management lead) as well as outside industry partners ESAero (prime contractor), Joby Aviation (electric motor supplier), Scale Composites (electric engine integration), Xperimental (wing fabricator), and Electric Power Systems (battery supplier).
Visit Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) for more information. (NASA only)