NASA has shared details of its new all-electric plane that is set to take off to the sky this fall. The plane is designed to run fully on electric batteries, departing from the tradition of fuel-powered planes. If all goes well, this will be the first step toward achieving a cleaner, cheaper, and quieter future for aviation.
Known as the X-57, the plane is lightweight compared to traditional planes. Its weight helps it use less power over the same distance compared to its equal fuel-powered planes. Further, the plane produces less noise as compared to fuel-powered options. According to NASA, the plane is currently being prepared for initial tests, which will be conducted in the desert east of Los Angeles.
The plane borrows its design from a four-seater plane constructed by the Italian Tecnam corporation. The main reason for this is to help in comparison of the two models of the design. The experts at NASA will be collecting data on the electric plane and comparing it with the fuel-powered counterpart of the same design.
In previous years, NASA was mainly focused on space research. However, the company has now allocated $3.7 billion of its $22 billion budget to earth-bound issues. With the world grappling with the issue of carbon pollution, NASA will use a large chunk of this budget to research electric vessels.
The aviation industry already contributes up to 10% of all American greenhouse emissions. With aviation-based pollution growing every year, the industry must be tamed to control pollution. A recent study found that aircraft is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in the US. Since 1990, there has been a 17% increase in the pollution caused by aircraft. If this trend continues, the industry may run out of control.
The aim of NASA is to use the X-57 to show that electric airplanes can perform much better than fuel-powered ones. The plane is expected to lower operational costs while at the same time leading to zero emissions. If the research turns out well, it could lead to a rapid transformation of the commercial aviation industry.
NASA is not the first body to tempt to manufacture an electric plane. However, most of the other manufacturers do it under wraps. Marty Bradley, a sustainable aviation consultant at the University of Southern California, told The Daily Beast that the information shared by NASA would be instrumental in moving the industry forward.
“NASA has shared ground test successes and failures freely with the industry and has helped everyone by sharing their lessons openly at conferences and by publishing their data,” Bradley said.
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