The Power Management of Aircraft and the Future of Power Controllers

As the aviation industry continues its push towards carbon neutrality and eco-friendly operations, manufacturers across the globe are looking to find ways in which aircraft can take advantage of both hybrid and electric systems. While the global demand for commercial transportation maintains steady growth as the world becomes more interconnected, countries such as the United Kingdom have made pledges to reach carbon neutrality in the coming decades. As these environmental mandates continue to be proposed by various major parties of the global aviation industry, original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have begun initiatives to rethink the design of certain aspects of aircraft construction.

In the present, most conventional aircraft rely on jet engines and power plants which create the needed power for flight through the compression and combustion of fossil fuels. Through the ignition of fossil fuels, enough power and force may be generated for the means of driving systems and creating propulsion for forward movement and lift. Meanwhile, various electrical systems such as lighting, avionics, entertainment systems, and other cabin equipment all depend upon engine gearbox-driven generators which produce an electrical load to accommodate all connections.

Other common systems that support typical aircraft include those that manage or use engine bleed air, examples including pneumatic systems that enable and control cabin pressurization, anti-icing and deicing systems that protect surfaces from the buildup of ice, and air conditioning systems that promote a climate controlled environment for the safety and comfort of passengers and crew members alike. With the engine gearbox, power may also be provided to hydraulic pumps for the means of managing flight controls, landing gear systems, braking systems, door actuation, and mechanical systems such as fuel and oil pumps.

Due to the way that all of these systems function for a typical aircraft, the push towards fully electric models would force a change in how all are implemented and function. Regardless of whether jet engines are retained while other systems are electrified, the aircraft is designed as a hybrid, or the aircraft is fully electric, all components ranging from the hydraulic pumps that actuate landing gear to the actuators that manage flight surface controls will need to be replaced with electrical versions.

One way in which aircraft may move towards the realization of fully electric systems is to have electric generators provide the energy needed for all equipment and systems to function as intended. Despite this, such electric generators would initially require gas-powered engines for creating the energy needed for operations. To fully move towards complete electric aircraft, the engine would need to be replaced with electric motors and batteries that could achieve sufficient power. Due to our current limitations in such technologies, the first aircraft that may make such strides will be smaller transports and urban mobility platforms.

As more systems shift towards reliance on electricity, the amount of electricity required for a standard aircraft will quickly rise. With more demand and capacity, so too comes an increased potential of a dangerous short or overload condition. Due to the grand amount of power that would be relayed through fully electrified aircraft systems, current interfaces would not be sufficient for ample protection, even risking the chance of fusing when a fault condition occurs. Typically, a conventional aircraft will implement mechanical relays and contractors for their power management and protection.

In order to meet the protection demands of upcoming aircraft with increased electronic systems, companies such as Parker Aerospace have been developing a modular solid-state power controller (SSPC) that would take the place of conventional components. As a standalone unit, multiple electrical power controller systems may be assembled together to create a solid-state electrical distribution unit (SSEDU). With two or more power controllers, each controller may act similarly to a circuit breaker as an individually controlled channel for the benefit of the electrical distribution system.

With the use of silicone carbide technology, the design of the solid-state power controller in aircraft will facilitate varying systems and platforms which are connected to it. For its capabilities, Parker’s power controller electrical system would provide high speed, efficiency, and power density per channel. Additionally, such pieces would also allow for rapid fault mitigation and bus reconfiguration for the benefit of all components. For high capacitive input loads, the power controller would be capable of inrush current mitigation, and I2T fault protection would be programmable. Alongside such benefits and capabilities, the solid-state power controller would also have wide support for various Mil-Std rated components and CAN busses, among other parts.

When solid-state power controllers are situated within a multi-channel configuration, one controller may be programmed with other controllers for the means of achieving power configurations that are staggered. Additionally, the electrical distribution unit may also be configured for the means of providing power routing, power sequencing, source isolation, load isolation, and bi-directional flow for battery operations. With the standard design of the solid-state power controller, a reliance on key components will be reduced while increasing the flexibility of adding new technologies with certification by similarity. Such systems may also pose to reduce application NRE and development time alongside platform certification cost and time.

As of the present, Parker Aerospace has finalized testing for a first-generation SSEDU containing eight channels, each of which are configured for 270VCD. Handling loads ranging from 20 to 150 amps, the first generation SSEDU boasts both programmable and manual switch control, overcurrent protection, short fault mitigation, thermal efficiency when operating with continuous loads, and more. Moving into the future, Parker seeks to develop a second-generation power controller which will be more efficient, light, and compact.

ASAP Buying Services is a streamlined purchasing platform owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, and we are a premier supplier of aviation, NSN, and electronic parts. Whether you are in need of power controller voltage components, relays, distribution system parts, and other related items, we have you covered with our unrivaled inventory of top quality parts. Take the time to explore our various catalogs, and our team members are readily available 24/7x365 to assist you through the purchasing process as necessary. At ASAP Buying Services, we are more than just a dependable distributor; we are your strategic sourcing partner.


April 20, 2021

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