NASA reports that its X-57 “Maxwell” experimental all-electric aircraft, is working to provide industry and regulators with knowledge that will revolutionise sustainable aviation. A statement on its website says “Developing that knowledge involved more than a decade of close alignment between NASA and its private sector partners – and that started with support for a small business.”
Creating this aircraft, which plans to make its inaugural test flight in 2023 the statement continues, “required intense research and development, and to produce that, NASA has worked with Empirical Systems Aerospace (ESAero), a small business based in San Luis Obispo, California. ESAero, the prime contractor for the X-57 project, provided support for air vehicle and all-electric propulsion design, analysis, manufacturing, integration, ground testing, diagnostic tools, and software modelling for the aircraft.
“ESAero’s early efforts in electric aircraft research were supported by NASA through its Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program. In 2009, the company received its first NASA SBIR award to design and analyse the efficiency of novel all- and hybrid-electric aircraft concepts. Stemming from this and later SBIR awards came the experimental Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) aircraft, later designated as the X-57 Maxwell.”
Starr Ginn who served as deputy aeronautics research director at Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California said “NASA’s work with the private sector on this project has brought a lot of transparency to the industry, and the companies have been able to grow themselves. The government takes on the high-risk ideas and helps mature them to where they become a viable product for industry.”
“This industry of building electric airplanes is very competitive,” said Ginn, who is now NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility lead strategist; “Having a NASA-sponsored project, where we get to share all our lessons learned with the public, allows the industry to grow. The X-57 project has been a wealth of knowledge so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
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