NASA’s All Electric Aircraft

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has landed rovers on Mars and put people on the moon in the past. Along with the numerous other projects they’re working on, NASA has been testing out an all-electric aircraft. The all-electric plane is the X-57 Maxwell, and is one of the first parts of NASA’s work toward sustainable aviation solutions. 

The X-57 Maxwell is an all-electric plane that is run on lithium-ion batteries. The batteries will replace the need for aviation fuel since the lithium batteries are rechargeable. The two 400-pound battery packs were already safely installed in the plane’s cabin. The batteries however, are only used for the energy that the motors need in flight. Before being installed on the plane, NASA had to test the batteries numerous times to affirm they can safely power the aircraft. Additionally, the cruise motors went through tests to make sure they will operate properly at the maximum temperature, power, speed, and voltage of the aircrafts motor. On February 3, 2023, the cruise motors successfully completed thermal testing, which means the plane is one step closer to having its first flight. According to NASA, the cruise motor controllers can be cooled off by air flowing through the motor and they also do not produce excessive heat since they use silicon carbide transistors, which gives it a 98% efficiency during take-off and cruise. The model that the plane is in currently is modification 2 which has the two gas engines replaced by two electric motors, while modification 4 has 12 small motors, while in addition to 12 smaller motors, the wings are also slimmer. 

Diagram of the main characteristics of the X-57 Maxwell. Photo provided by Clean Future.

The X-57 Maxwell is on track to have its first flight in 2023. The first piloted X-plane from NASA in two decades will be flown by Tim Williams as soon as September 20, 2023. Before Williams will fly in the plane, he has been practicing on a flight simulator for the X-57. On the simulator, he practices maneuvers and improves his in-flight reaction time. This practice is important because, although Williams is a research test pilot for NASA and was in the Air Force, he still has to practice with a new plane. Especially if it is a different type of engine like the electric motor on the X-57 Maxwell, it might also have different controls or limits. 

The cockpit of the X-57 Maxwell. Photo provided by Electrek.

The X-57 Maxwell plane is just the tip of the iceberg for sustainable aviation. If the X-57 does well in its first flight this year, we could be one step closer to bigger electric private or commercial planes. Additionally, since aerospace is related to the advancement of technology to have humans travel and explore our atmosphere and outer space, NASA’s new all-electric aircraft could make us one step closer to sustainably landing humans on Mars.

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