Airbus launches cryogenics and superconductivity research project for aircraft propulsion

Europe-based global major aerospace group Airbus has announced the start of its Advanced Superconducting and Cryogenic Experimental powertraiN Demonstrator (Ascend) project. This would examine the potential application of cryogenics and superconductivity to future alternative aircraft power plants. 

Ascend would involve the design and construction of a technology demonstrator system, which would be undertaken, at its E-Aircraft System House, over the next three years. This was located at Ottobrun, in Bavaria, Germany, and was the largest aircraft alternative fuels and propulsion systems test facility in Europe. 

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Superconducting materials lower electrical resistance, with the result that electrical current could flow without losing any energy. Liquid hydrogen, at cryogenic temperatures (–253 ˚C) both permitted superconductivity and would also significantly cool electrical systems. The result would be a significant increase in the performance of the entire electrical propulsion system.

Under the project, electrical power architectures ranging from several hundred kilowatts to multi-megawatts would be assessed, with and without liquid hydrogen. The solutions that, by the end of 2023, would be tested and evaluated would be adaptable to hybrid propellor, turbofan and turboprop engines. 

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The aim was to advance the development of low-carbon-emission and zero-emission flight. It was anticipated that the results of the project would show a potential for the weight of components to be cut in half, while electrical losses would be reduced by at least 50%. These results would be the result of the reduction in the complexity and volume of systems needing to be installed in the aircraft. Further, the required voltage would fall below 500 V.

Ascend would also serve to underpin the group’s decisions regarding future aircraft propulsion system architectures. It would also support improvements in the performance of current and future propulsion systems spanning the complete Airbus range, including helicopters and electrically-powered vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft, as well as regional and single-aisle airliners. 

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