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 Study sets new distance record for medical drone transport
13.09.2017 | Johns Hopkins Medicine

nachricht Researchers 'count cars' -- literally -- to find a better way to control heavy traffic
10.08.2017 | Florida Atlantic University

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: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>