Composites are changing all types of products and industries, but aerospace is definitely reaping a full range of benefits from new materials that are stronger, lighter, and extremely versatile. Their high strength-to-weight ratio makes them ideal for use in all manner of aircraft applications.
Carbon fiber composites now make up much of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, Bombardier’s Learjet 85, and many other crafts, but carbon fiber isn’t the only composite that may help the industry reach new heights, especially in the increasingly important factor of sustainability.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Creating A Clean, Sustainable Aerospace Composite
Researchers at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) are pioneering the use of plant materials in aerospace and automotive components. By using the fibers of hibiscus and pineapple plants, the UPM researchers are hoping to create a clean, sustainable composite that will securely and safely function as an aerospace or automotive fastener.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Identifying And Isolating The Right Properties
The fibers of both plants contain natural, petroleum-based polymers that could be used as a strengthening element in a range of aerospace applications. Currently, the researchers are working to identify the source of durability in the plant fiber, and if it can offer potential smoke-proof and waterproof properties.
As research is expected to continue through 2018, the team hopes to conclude what plant fiber elements will be most useful and subsequently determine if they can comply with aviation safety standards.
Large Companies Reaching Out To Sustainability Startups
Besides playing a potentially revolutionary role in aerospace and aviation, bio-materials are on their way to becoming a more prominent sustainable solution for commercial and industrial productions. This includes plant-based flexible materials that could be used as a reliable alternative to non-biodegradable plastics.
Large companies like Coca-Cola, which recently debuted a soda bottle prototype made from 100% plant-based plastic, are now turning to startups and smaller manufacturers to help scale up material production.
Learning What Can Biomaterials Accomplish
While there is a lot more to consider in developing a plant-based composite that’s designed to function on a plane, as opposed to a material simply meant to contain a soft drink, we may be closer to the day where strong, lightweight, and truly sustainable materials can successful accomplish either, or both.
What are your thoughts on the growing research of bio-materials and composites? What are your thoughts on using them as alternatives to conventional metals like plastic, aluminum, and steel? Has interest in sustainable materials had an impact on your business? Tell us in the comments.
Perseverance Touchdown On Mars A Triumph of Aerospace Technology
On Feb. 18, 2021, years of work by aerospace scientists culminated in a successful landing of the newest Mars rover Perseverance. The semi-autonomous vehicle had been traveling the solar system toward the red planet since a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket propelled it off Earth on July 30, 2020. Perseverance features several improvements over its predecessor Curiosity and has transported a helicopter to Mars that will soon attempt a flight in the Martian atmosphere.
Versatile Semi-Autonomous Robot
At roughly the size of a small car, Perseverance carries many types of equipment meant to analyze soil, search for microbes, record audio, and take pictures and video. Its robotic arm includes a coring drill. The rover carries 23 cameras.
Its semi-autonomous software represents a big advance over Curiosity. Perseverance can plan its own routes as it explores the surface and therefore cover more ground every day due to not needing to wait for instructions from Earth.
Perseverance includes an upgrade to its wheels intended to prevent the wheel wear problems experienced by Curiosity. The new rover’s wheels are 1 mm thicker and have a different tread pattern. Engineers expect the new tread design to perform well on sand and resist damage from moving across sharp rocks.
Historic Helicopter Flight Planned
Perseverance has succeeded in deploying the helicopter Ingenuity. The 2 kg helicopter has sent signals to Earth confirming its readiness to operate. Currently, Ingenuity remains connected to Perseverance which continues to charge the helicopter’s lithium batteries. Once the helicopter separates from the rover and attempts flight, it will rely on its solar panels for recharging. Should Ingenuity succeed in flight, it will represent the first controlled flight in a non-Earth atmosphere.
Are you inspired by the success of this Mars mission? What aerospace advances do think will come next?
Curiosity is about the size of a small SUV — 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall — (about 3 meters long (not including the arm), 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall), or about the height of a basketball player. It weighs 899 kg (1,982 lbs in Earth gravity; 743 lbs in Mars gravity). Features a Geology lab, rocker-bogie suspension, rock-vaporizing laser and lots of cameras and it’s mission to search areas of Mars for past or present conditions favorable for life, and conditions capable of preserving a record of life.
The prime mission lasted one Mars year or about 23 Earth months, and Curiosity continues to operate on Mars today.
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System, being larger than only Mercury. In English, Mars carries the name of the Roman god of war and is often referred to as the “Red Planet“.
The latter refers to the effect of the iron oxide prevalent on Mars’s surface, which gives it a reddish appearance distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, with surface features reminiscent of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth.
Electric Aircraft Makers Planning Affordable Shuttle Services
Aerospace engineers increasingly envision city skies buzzing quietly with electric air taxis. Known as eVTOL vehicles, or electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the zero-emission aircraft can launch and land like helicopters, but without the noise and fossil fuel consumption. Investors foresee them operating from urban “vertiports” that connect with large airports or shuttle people between regional cities. Electric aircraft could cost less to use than helicopters and provide a viable transportation option to the public.
Speed And Range Capabilities
Archer, an eVTOL startup, expects to unveil its first aircraft in 2024. Designers say that it will have a range of about 60 miles and be capable of a maximum speed of 150 mph. A 1-hour car ride could become a 15 or 20-minute flight.
Heavy eVTOL Investment
Seeing potential in these small, short-range passenger vehicles, United Airlines has invested in the eVTOL startup Archer and ordered 200 aircraft for a cost of $1 billion.
Automaker money is on the table too for eVTOLs. The merger of the automakers Fiat Chrysler and PSA Peugeot formed the company Stellantis, which has also invested in Archer.
The companies Solvay and Vertical Aerospace have agreed to collaborate and build an eVTOL. Solvay brings advanced composite and adhesive materials to the venture, and Vertical Aerospace specializes in sustainable aviation technologies. They plan to present the world with a working prototype, the VA-1X aircraft, by September 2021.
Safety And Cost Advantages
Electric motors are less vulnerable to breakdowns compared to conventional engines. Additionally, electric motors weigh less, which means a single aircraft could have many engines. Such redundancy would guard against the threat of total engine failure during a flight.
Electrical charging costs less than engines that directly burn fossil fuels. On top of reducing this expense, aerospace scientists are working toward autonomous eVTOLs operated by sophisticated software, which would eliminate the cost of paying a pilot.
How far do you think electric aerospace technology could go? Could it eventually work for long-range passenger flights?
Our mission is to advance the benefits of sustainable air mobility. By creating the world’s leading air mobility network, we will help push the world towards a zero-emissions future.
- Build an aircraft to demonstrate the capabilities of electric VTOL
- Certify an aircraft that is just as safe as commercial airliners
- Launch commercial routes in cities & integrate autonomous systems for safety
Solvay is a science company whose technologies bring benefits to many aspects of daily life. Our purpose—we bond people, ideas and elements to reinvent progress—is a call to go beyond, to reinvent future forms of progress and create sustainable shared value for all through the power of science. In a world facing an ever-growing population and quest for resources, we aim to be the driving force triggering the next breakthroughs to enable humanity to advance while protecting the planet we all share.
We bond with customers and partners to address today and tomorrow’s megatrends. As a global leader in Materials, Chemicals and Solutions, Solvay brings advancements in planes, cars, batteries, smart and medical devices, water and air treatment, to solve critical industrial, social and environmental challenges. You can count on our innovative solutions to contribute to safer, cleaner and more sustainable future.
ABOUT Vertical Aerospace
Vertical Aerospace believes passionately in the power of electric flight to change the way the world travels because you shouldn’t have to sacrifice the planet you live on to get from A to B.
Founded by greentech entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick in 2016, Vertical Aerospace has been disrupting the way aircraft are developed. Combining the rigour and discipline of aerospace with the pace and agility of F1 enables Vertical to develop cutting-edge electric aircraft.
VA-1X, Vertical’s flagship aircraft, is a piloted all-electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) which will carry four passengers for 100 miles at cruise speeds of 150mph. It is currently in development with flight testing taking place in 2021, followed by certification in 2024 with initial commercial services starting shortly afterwards.
NASA’s Chainmail Tire Is Ready For Extraterrestrial Terrain
What happens when your planetary rover punctures its wheel and the nearest service station is about 34 million miles away? That’s a real problem for NASA and their plans to send another rover to Mars in 2020. Curiosity, the rover currently exploring the red planet, has been hindered by punctures in its aluminum wheels, but a new type of tire could make travel much smoother for NASA’s future Mars missions.
Image Source: NASA
Updating For Durability And Flexibility For The Unfamiliar
Based on the Resilient Wheel design from the original 1970 Lunar Roving Vehicle, a new type of airless, woven tire has been developed to prevent punctures and reliably travel across unfamiliar planetary terrain. After years of development and challenges in achieving the right balance of durability and traction, NASA engineer, Colin Creager and materials scientist Santo Padula created a stoichiometric nickel-titanium alloy wheel that’s durable, flexible, and is able to spring back to shape even after its deformed.
Image Source: NASA
A Prototype With Promise
The wheel is comprised of a series of interlocking coils, similar to chainmail. While the original Resilient Wheel used steel mesh, the updated version provides better spring deflection and traction on rough terrain. Tests of the new prototype show promise, although NASA has not yet confirmed whether this specific design will be the one that’s used on its 2020 Mars rover. The chainmail wheels may however, play an integral role in the next crewed exploration vehicle, which would allow for speedier travel and more weight capacity than the Curiosity rover.
Have thoughts to offer on this development? Share them in the comments.
- Will Student Manufacturing Programs Really Shrink The Skills Gap?
- NASA And Honeywell Work Toward Supersonic Passenger Flight By Reducing Booms
- When Does Titanium’s Strength Become A Painful Problem?
- Will The U.S. Have Spider Soldiers In The Near Future?
- Gearing Up For The New York International Auto Show