Major Milestone for NASA’s X-57 Maxwell All-Electric Aircraft

NASA X-57 Maxwell Electric Plane

This artist’s concept image shows NASA’s first all-electric X-plane, the X-57 Maxwell, in its final configuration, flying in cruise mode over NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. In Mod IV test flights, X-57’s high-lift motors will deactivate during cruise mode, and their propeller blades will fold into the nacelles to reduce drag. The motors will reactivate and use centrifugal force to spin the blades back out to provide necessary lift for landing. Credit: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc

NASA’s X-57 Maxwell all-electric aircraft reached another milestone toward its first flight with the successful thermal testing of its cruise motor controllers.

Thermal testing is important because it validates the design, operability, and workmanship quality of the controllers – critical components for providing power to X-57’s experimental electric motors. These complex systems have temperature-sensitive parts and must be able to withstand extreme conditions during flight.

NASA X-57 Maxwell in Hangar

Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

The cruise motor controllers convert energy stored in the aircraft’s lithium-ion batteries to power the aircraft’s motors, which drive the propellers. The controllers use silicon carbide transistors to deliver 98% efficiency during high-power take-off and cruise, meaning they do not generate excessive heat and can be cooled off by the air flowing through the motor.

Susanah Kowalewski Cruise Motor Controller

NASA Glenn’s Susanah Kowalewski prepares a cruise motor controller for testing. Credit: NASA

During a recent test at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, each of the flight motor controllers survived while operating inside a test chamber under the range of temperatures they may encounter during flight with a safety margin applied (minus 11 to 147 degrees Fahrenheit).

X-57 Cruise Motor Controller Testing

Left to Right: Glenn’s Jarred Wilhite, Emily Belovich, Andrew Smith, and Susanah Kowalewski gather data of the X-57 cruise motor controllers during thermal cycle tests. Credit: NASA

The testing team closely monitored temperature responses of the power components and the control components inside the controllers, making sure they stayed within their allowable temperature range limits of the components. Close monitoring ensures the cruise motor controllers will perform correctly during piloted research flights.

X-57 Maxwell Cruise Motor Controller Testing

Credit: NASA/Jef Janis

Now that ground tests have validated the controllers under the most extreme temperature conditions expected in flight, the X-57 team is one step closer to integrating all of Maxwell’s systems and ensuring that they can work together – one of the biggest challenges for an aircraft, especially a one-of-a-kind X-plane.

An upcoming Flight Readiness Review at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, is the next major step before research flights take place.

1 Comment on "Major Milestone for NASA’s X-57 Maxwell All-Electric Aircraft"

  1. stephen schaffer | February 9, 2023 at 7:40 am | Reply

    does it have the ability to carry the battery fire suppression system

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