Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA research team successfully flies first laser-powered aircraft

10.10.2003


Ever since the dawn of powered flight, it has been necessary for all aircraft to carry onboard fuel — whether in the form of batteries, fuel, solar cells, or even a human "engine" — in order to stay aloft.


With a laser beam centered on its panel of photovoltaic cells, the lightweight model plane makes the first flight of an aircraft powered by a laser beam inside a building at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Ala. (Tom Tschida, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center)



But a team of researchers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif., and the University of Alabama in Huntsville is trying to change that.

They have now chalked up a major accomplishment… and a "first." The team has developed and demonstrated a small-scale aircraft that flies solely by means of propulsive power delivered by an invisible, ground-based laser. The laser tracks the aircraft in flight, directing its energy beam at specially designed photovoltaic cells carried onboard to power the plane’s propeller.


"The craft could keep flying as long as the energy source, in this case the laser beam, is uninterrupted," said Robert Burdine, Marshall’s laser project manager for the test. "This is the first time that we know of that a plane has been powered only by the energy of laser light. It really is a groundbreaking development for aviation."

"We feel this really was a tremendous success for the project," added David Bushman, project manager for beamed power at Dryden. "We are always trying to develop new technologies that will enable new capabilities in flight, and we think this is a step in the right direction."

The plane, with its five-foot wingspan, weighs only 11 ounces and is constructed from balsa wood, carbon fiber tubing and is covered with Mylar film, a cellophane-like material. Designed and built at Dryden, the aircraft is a one-of-a-kind, radio-controlled model airplane. A special panel of photovoltaic cells, selected and tested by team participants at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is designed to efficiently convert the energy from the laser wavelength into electricity to power a small electric motor that spins the propeller.

The lightweight, low-speed plane was flown indoors at Marshall to prevent wind and weather from affecting the test flights. After the craft was released from a launching platform inside the building, the laser beam was aimed at the airplane panels, causing the propeller to spin and propel the craft around the building, lap after lap. When the laser beam was turned off, the airplane glided to a landing.

The team made a similar series of demonstration flights in 2002 at Dryden, using a theatrical searchlight as a power source. The recent flights at Marshall are the first known demonstration of an aircraft flying totally powered by a ground-based laser. The demonstration is a key step toward the capability to beam power to a plane aloft. Without the need for onboard fuel or batteries, such a plane could carry scientific or communication equipment, for instance, and stay in flight indefinitely. The concept offers potential commercial value to the remote sensing and telecommunications industries, according to Bushman.

"A telecommunications company could put transponders on an airplane and fly it over a city," Bushman said. "The aircraft could be used for everything from relaying cell phone calls to cable television or Internet connections."

Laser power beaming is a promising technology for future development of aircraft design and operations. The concept supports NASA’s mission-critical goals for the development of revolutionary aerospace technologies.

Editor’s note: A NASA TV VideoFile on this subject will be broadcast beginning at 12 noon EDT October 9, 2003. NASA TV is available on the AMC-9C transponder, C-Band, located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz.

Jerry Berg | NASA
Further information:
http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/news/releases/2003/03-180.html

More articles from Transportation and Logistics:

nachricht From parking garage to smart multi-purpose garage
19.07.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation IAO

nachricht Efficient and intelligent: Drones get to grips with planning the delivery of goods
12.07.2017 | Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt

All articles from Transportation and Logistics >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>