We are entering an exciting new era for the aerospace industry.
Thanks to cutting-edge technological developments, the coming decade may rival the heady years of the 1960s when the American public was riveted by NASA’s Apollo program and the race to land a man on the moon.
Today, however, private industry is surging forward to make aerospace advances that are not beholden to government programs. They promise to open up space exploration to a greater segment of the public.
Perhaps the best example is the Blue Origin program of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. He has developed a highly reliable and safe low-earth-orbit launch system that has carried the first non-astronauts into space.
This includes the like of “Captain Kirk” himself, William Shatner and the legendary female aviator Wally Funk. She became the oldest person ever to enter space at age 82.
But not all new advancements in aerospace involve space flight. Another kind of race is on to build the first zero-carbon-emission aircraft. The air transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emission.
Thus, the international community is eager to develop commercial planes that fly without burning fossil fuels. Several companies have already successful tested airplanes that fly using pollution-free hydrogen as a power source.
One company leading the way in hydrogen-powered flight is ZeroAvia, a British-American firm that expects to begin offering such a plane by 2023. ZeroAvia currently has a model that can fly up to 500 miles using a hydrogen powertrain system. The craft seats 20 passengers.
Airbus is also deeply involved in the hydrogen flight race. This major aerospace firm recently introduced three concepts for zero-emission aircraft. It hopes to have something ready by 2035.
Another significant focus on new aerospace technology is autonomous flight. Much has already been achieved in this realm with the development of drones, many models of which have become routine elements of the Pentagon’s defensive systems.
However, commercial use of autonomous aircraft is a key goal within the industry. In the near future, the jet airliners we all travel on routinely for business or pleasure may require no human pilots.
Like drones, autonomous passenger jets can be flown with computer systems handling most of the flying supported by “pilot” controllers guiding planes from ground locations.