NASA’s Ideas for the Future of Aeronautics

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is internationally renown for its missions to the moon, to mars, and beyond. Kids from foreign countries visiting Texas often make it a priority to visit the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and leave with precious souvenirs.

However at the core of almost everything NASA does is aeronautics, which can sometimes be forgotten.

The Importance of Aeronautics

The studying, designing, testing, and creating of new technologies and aircraft are what make everything possible for NASA. The unbelievable pictures of Mars that we are receiving would not be possible without the aeronautics technology that allowed us to get into space in the first place.

From reading the NASA Aeronautics 10 Year Plan, we learn that passenger trips in aircraft will increase to over 7 billion per year by 2034. The global aviation industry will hold over 105 million jobs, and will contribute over $6 trillion (with a “t”) in GDP worldwide. The importance of this industry is unquestionable, and its growth is a never ending, worldwide collective effort.

The Future

To continue progressing forward, NASA is constantly improving the technologies used by aircraft. From long-lasting lithium ion batteries to satellite communication with drones, nothing is left unexplored. Let’s dive deeper into a few new areas of technological exploration.

Spanwise Adaptive Wing

Airplanes have rather large tail ends, which create a huge amount of drag due to their mass. One idea being explored is tails that can fold or retract. Since the tail is only needed for stability and direction during takeoff, the idea is that it could fold out down to reduce drag in the air, where it is not needed.

Lightweight, Conformal Antennas for Beyond Line of Sight Communications

One challenge limiting the growth of commercial drones flying in the National Airspace System is the current requirement that all such aircraft be operated within the radio line of sight of its ground-based pilot operator.

The solution?

A line of communication between the operator and the drones themselves could be satellite, however they require a large, energy wasting antenna to be attached to the drone. So researchers are exploring a flexible antenna whose foundation is made of lightweight and very thin aerogel that can snugly form to the contours of an aircraft – helping to reduce drag, fuel use and emissions.

LION: Lithium Oxygen Batteries for NASA Electric Aircraft

“One obstacle for widely adopting electric-powered aircraft is the extraordinary demand for storing enough energy in batteries, even for small planes traveling short distances. A potential answer is the use of Lithium-Air (Li-Air) batteries, which have the highest theoretical energy storage capacity of any battery technology.”

Unfortunately standard batteries do not hold the lithium charge for long enough – after a few uses the lithium batteries are done.

NASA will investigate the feasibility of designing, novel, ultra-stable electrolytes that are resistant to decomposition so the batteries will last longer, allowing aircraft to extend the distance they can fly.

Never-ending Improvement

These developments are obviously still their early stages, but they represent the past, present, and future of this evolving organization. You can follow all new technological developments at and here on the NASA EPDC Blog.

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