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Flight Demonstration of Novel Atmospheric Satellite ConceptThe major focus of the Phase II effort described herein is to develop and demonstrate an aircraft capable of autonomously sailing (i.e., to cruise without propulsion or external assistance), and thereby prove that the dual-aircraft platform (DAP) atmospheric satellite concept is potentially viable. This sailing mode of flight was identified as the number-1 enabling technology required for the stratospheric DAP concept (also known as Stratosat) in the NIAC (NASA Innovative Advanced Concept) Phase I effort. No scientific demonstration of this technology has ever been done or documented to our knowledge. This report describes efforts to take a major step towards the sailing mode of flight capability using a single aircraft connected by cable to a moving ground vehicle which uses sufficient crosswind to cruise without propulsion while "pulling" the ground vehicle forward (i.e., without external assistance). The development of a prototype aircraft is described in terms of novel and key hardware and software elements. A specialized prototype aircraft is described, including a novel cable release mechanism, novel "lateron" control surfaces, and a highly-accurate onboard wind measurement system. Additionally, a novel means to safely connect the aircraft to the moving ground vehicle is described involving a fishing rod/reel and integrated load cell. All of these devices were designed and developed in-house and validated in flight testing. Software is developed to provide look-up tables that give the flight condition targets (i.e., 3-D position relative to ground vehicle, forward speed, aircraft orientation, etc.), based on current wind speed and direction. These tables are successfully validated in flight simulation and used onboard the aircraft. High fidelity analysis of the aircraft aerodynamics are described - required to produce accurate target sailing flight conditions. A novel wind tunnel measurement technique is developed to accurately assess the aerodynamics of the ultra-thin cable. A new specialized flight simulator is described which is utilized to develop and verify the flight software required onboard the aircraft, and to support training of pilots for flying the aircraft while tethered to a ground vehicle. The DAP flight simulator was developed within the Matlab-Simulink framework and included detailed treatment of aircraft/cable aerodynamics, cable dynamics, experimentally-derived propeller-motor thrust curves, actuator responsiveness, and realistic air turbulence. The specialized formation flight controller algorithm, developed using this flight simulator, and onboard the aircraft is described. Finally, a novel auto-tuning software is described and verified within the flight simulator that is shown to refine the sailing flight condition targets during flight using an optimization technique involving doublet maneuvers. Virtual flights using the auto-tuning software indicate that the prototype aircraft should be able to reach and hold sailing conditions despite moderate levels of turbulence provided there is sufficient mean wind available. An overview of the flight testing program is provided. Hundreds of short flights were conducted, primarily using a “dead” short runway at Deland Municipal Airport which permitted use of a moving ground vehicle. Additional flight tests at Space Florida’s Shuttle Landing Facility are also described. First year results from these tests in which the aircraft is controlled manually, demonstrated that excessive flight testing would be required for a pilot to learn to sail with visual cues. However, second year results from autonomous flight these tests included successful demonstration of the closed-loop autonomous formation flight capability (i.e., autonomously determine, reach, and hold the required 3-D location relative to the ground vehicle required for sailing). The next step of using the auto-tune software to autonomously refine the aircraft orientation targets to finally achieve sailing remains the primary goal of future work.
Document ID
Document Type
Engblom, W. A. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Moncayo, H. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Coulter, N. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Stone, T. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Willems, J. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Lown, J. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Jacobs, E. (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ. Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Decker, R. (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Huntsville, AL, United States)
Wurts, J. (Consultant, NASA Daytona Beach, FL, United States)
Date Acquired
March 4, 2019
Publication Date
November 14, 2018
Subject Category
Aircraft Design, Testing and Performance
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Portions of document may include copyright protected material.
Flight Demonstration
Atmospheric Satellite

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