NASA Pathfinder and Solar Plane Technologies – Magoda – Manufacturing America

Solar energy has technically been around since the dawn of civilization. Early humans used the sun to light fires, and the ancient Greeks are known to have used mirrors to light torches using the reflections of the sun’s rays.

It wasn’t until the late 1800s, however, that photoconductive materials really took off when scientists like Edmond Becquerel and Charles Fritts pioneered the use of solar panels. Today, solar energy holds great promise for the future of energy, and even NASA has experimented with using solar energy to power its planes.

Lessons from NASA’s Helios, Centurion and ERAST programs

Of the many solar projects NASA has worked on, the Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) initiative has yielded some of the most impressive results. The ERAST program used solar technologies to conduct experiments involving powered flight powered largely by the sun.

The ERAST program included a number of flights using experimental aircraft between the years 1993 and 2003. Among the notable achievements of the ERAST program, NASA flew an unmanned mission for 26 consecutive hours using the Altus aircraft. At the end of the program, NASA had carried out the flight of an unmanned drone at an altitude of nearly 97,000 feet.

ERAST results have led to the creation of solar airplane technology used in NASA’s Helios line of solar airplanes. This same technology also spawned the Centurion Solar Drone, another NASA aircraft that relied on solar power and unmanned navigation technology.

The Helios and Centurion solar-powered drone planes have both provided proof of concept that lightweight research craft could be powered for long durations using solar power, but the technology has yet to produce a fully solar-powered aircraft that can fly at high altitudes, high speeds, long distances and for long periods of time.

Today, NASA is focusing on its Sunglider aircraft, a solar-powered glider craft that was developed in coordination with AeroVironment Inc. of Simi Valley. The craft is remotely piloted, which means it operates without a pilot and is therefore incredibly light.

On-board solar batteries allow the craft to store power for flying at night, and the Sunglider has been tested to reach an altitude of nearly 63,000 feet for more than five hours.

Notable developments of NASA aircraft of the past

NASA’s Pathfinder was another of the administration’s experiments that served as a precursor to the Centurion and Helios. The Solar Pathfinder, not to be confused with the Mars Pathfinder, was created in the early 1990s and was the counterpart to the Pathfinder-Plus. Both of these aircraft functioned as a type of atmospheric satellite array that received energy largely derived from the sun.

The Pathfinder program was short-lived, but again the resulting research has helped NASA and other atmospheric agencies conduct exciting research not only in solar energy, but also in solar energy. use of avionics and networks. The Pathfinder-Plus has also demonstrated that power output can reach and potentially exceed 12,500 watts based on solar power alone.

The future of NASA solar-powered drone technology

Looking ahead, it looks like solar power will play an important role in powering future NASA planes. Currently, the biggest challenges of continuous high-altitude flight using solar power include traffic management and technological sophistication.

Collision avoidance technology is still maturing, but it has gained a lot of ground since the first tests began in the 1990s. Because NASA’s solar-powered planes are light by necessity, they are also fragile and sensitive, avoiding mid-air collisions is critical to success.

Additionally, battery storage technology that relies on solar energy currently requires large, heavy modules, but over time it is expected that advances in technology will allow solar energy to be stored for longer periods of time. using smaller storage devices. This will not only enable longer flights, but will also remove some of the weight and altitude restrictions placed on current solar aircraft and drones.

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