Wing research aims for energy-efficiency in space

Engineers from UK industry and academia are working on a £1m project to maximise energy efficiency on board future spacecraft. 

The BAE Systems initiative will investigate solutions that save and maximise energy in order to enable extended space flight without the need to return to Earth to re-fuel or to avoid carry significant amounts of fuel on long-stay journeys.

Engineers at Lancaster University are major partners in the consortium

In a statement, principal investigator Prof Jianqiao Ye, from the University’s Engineering Department, said: ‘Our role is to look at saving the power used to support the monitoring system.

‘There needs to be frequent communication between the aircraft and Earth and power is needed to send huge constant quantities of data as well as receiving instructions from a communications centre.’

The Lancaster research team will look at how mechanical energy generated by the vibration of an aircraft’s wings can be transferred, stored and used to support communications systems.

To do so, sensors constructed from special spatial material are adhered to the surface of the aircraft wing panels. Vibration from the wings is then transferred to and collected by the sensor to generate electricity, thereby maximising the energy generated by the craft.

Lancaster researchers will examine the structure of the aircraft and estimate the amount of energy that can be ‘harvested’ in this way by looking at the location, geometry of the sensor and the distribution of the energy.

The consortium will also look to see how the process could be improved and built on from a design perspective and using wireless connections to reduce weight.

The EPSRC-funded project is a three-year collaboration led by Exeter University and includes UCLAN in Preston, BAE Systems, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Westland Helicopters, the Knowledge Transfer Network and several other companies.

‘There are many potential applications of this technology – not just for the aerospace industry but for others including offshore activity – and the potential for a commercial development,’ said Professor Ye. ‘It is the integration of different aspects of sensors, structure design, signals and software support – a full package of technology.’