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10 Electric Planes to Watch

Solar and other all-electric planes are getting more practical

11 min read
giant electric plane wing
Are We There Yet? The Solar Impulse photovoltaic-powered plane took a break in this St. Louis hanger about halfway through its cross-country U.S. tour.
Photo: Erik M. Lunsford/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Photo

Solar Impulse, a 1-seater solar-powered plane,completed a 5695-kilometer bunny hop across the United States on 6 July. The feat deservedly got a lot of attention, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg: Electric flying has been a reality for quite some time, and it’s never been more practical.

Aviation is a slow-moving industry, but the daring designers of electric aircraft have made a lot of progress recently. During the past two years, as a number of key technologies—batteries, controllers, motors, and materials—have neared maturity and become easier to source at more affordable prices, there has been a minor boom of sorts in the offering of electric drives for small planes.

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Two men fix metal rods to a gold-foiled satellite component in a warehouse/clean room environment

Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.

NASA

For a deep dive into the engineering behind the James Webb Space Telescope, see our collection of posts here.

When the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveals its first images on 12 July, they will be the by-product of carefully crafted mirrors and scientific instruments. But all of its data-collecting prowess would be moot without the spacecraft’s communications subsystem.

The Webb’s comms aren’t flashy. Rather, the data and communication systems are designed to be incredibly, unquestionably dependable and reliable. And while some aspects of them are relatively new—it’s the first mission to use Ka-band frequencies for such high data rates so far from Earth, for example—above all else, JWST’s comms provide the foundation upon which JWST’s scientific endeavors sit.

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