NASA completes thermal motor testing of its X-57 Maxwell


Thermal cruise motor controller testing of NASA’s X-57 Maxwell has been successful, representing another step towards the electric aircraft’s maiden flight, the administration reported.

The cruise motor controllers convert energy stored in the aircraft’s lithium-ion batteries to power the motors. 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 air flowing through.

“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,” said NASA. “These complex systems have temperature-sensitive parts and must be able to withstand extreme conditions during flight.”

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. The controllers were tested under the range of temperatures they may encounter during flight with a safety margin applied ranging from minus 11 to 147 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA said 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, according to the administration. 

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

The next major step before research flights take place will be an upcoming Flight Readiness Review at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California.