NASA wants to play a big part in the development of electric aircraft

It's working with the aviation industry to bring electric systems to flights by 2035.

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NASA

While everyone's eyes are trained on its mission to Mars, NASA is also working to make flights back here on Earth more eco-friendly. By way of a new partnership with the aviation industry, the space agency wants to advance design and modelling tools for future aircraft that use an Electrified Aircraft Propulsion (EAP) system. It's also seeking proposals for ground and flight demonstrations for subsonic aircraft with integrated megawatt-class powertrain systems.

NASA wants to showcase the systems in flight, with an eye to introducing EAP tech into global fleets by 2035. In particular, it is targeting EAP use in smaller airplanes (including commercial flights) such as turboprops, regional jets, and single aisle aircraft. The deadline for proposals is April 20th.

NASA says that its studies have shown that the electrification of aircraft propulsion can have a significant impact on reducing energy use and carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions — in the same vein that electric motors produce fewer emissions that contribute to climate change.

The push for more sustainable air travel has become a hot topic for manufacturers and regulators alike. According to non-profit the Air Transport Action Group, flights produced 915 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019, before the pandemic grounded the industry, contributing 2 percent toward all human-induced CO2 emissions.

But change could be in the air. In January, Boeing vowed to to fly all its planes on 100 percent sustainable fuels (made from vegetable oil, animal fats and agricultural waste) by 2030. While the EU's Aviation Safety Agency is planning to create eco-ranking labels for flights, similar to the carbon emission stats currently printed on train tickets in the region. For its part, NASA appointed its first-ever senior climate advisor earlier this month, who is tasked with working with the Biden administration on its climate plan.

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