Like any industry, aerospace faces its share of challenges. But since aerospace touches so many other industries, including defense and passenger aviation, there should never be a shortage of new technologies to keep the industry thriving.
Here are a few things driving new aerospace technology.
The Future of Passenger Aircraft
At a glance, the passenger airplane has undergone very few changes over the past few decades. Perhaps aircraft emissions, regulations, and standards, along with the cost of fuel, will change this, causing a need for new aerospace technology.
It’s already happening in the auto industry. Concerns over the effects diesel and unleaded fuels have on the environment led to the rise of hybrid cars.
Could the passenger airline industry be next? The cost of fuel is also a challenge for that industry, so airlines may begin looking for hybrid aircraft that would significantly lower the cost of fuel, not to mention the effect on the environment.
It may be a long way off, but innovation in the area of hybrid-electric aircraft is already underway. The UK is interested in developing the plane. The proposed aircraft will be powered by biofuel engines, which will drastically reduce emissions.
The Future of Tourism … In Space
In recent years, there has been talk that passenger space travel could be a possibility in our lifetimes, and it seems that goal nears fruition every day. In fact, just recently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX made history by successfully landing a rocket in an upright position on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
As consumer space tourism comes closer to reality, there will no doubt be a need for safe and efficient technologies that can be mass-produced.
The aerospace industry will have more to do than just getting passengers into space, though. For example, one company is working on a 12,000-cubic-foot inflatable space habitat that could potentially support space tourism.
The Constant Churn of Products
As we’ve seen in the computing industry, new products can fade away quickly. There’s always a new model of computer, tablet, or mobile phone right around the corner.
The same could be said for the aerospace industry. By definition, aerospace is at the forefront of technology, and there will always be a need for lighter, more compact, more durable and more efficient products — whether it’s actuators, ball splines, or stud roller systems. Engineers’ need to continuously test and create lightweight, durable material that can support the load of airplanes and spacecraft.
That’s true not only in the US, but worldwide. The US aerospace and defense sector added $5 billion in exports in 2015, with more growth expected this year, meaning demand around the world is strong.
That was nearly 10 percent of total US exports last year. To put another way, global demand for American aerospace technology is a large driver of the domestic economy and should continue to be a motivator for continued excellence in innovation.
Not Without Challenges
Aerospace is a booming industry, but it still faces its share of challenges.
One of the big ones is the defense segment of the aerospace industry — specifically, declining defense budgets. Over the past three years, decreased revenues in the US defense subsector negatively impacted global aerospace and defense industry revenue, driven by fewer large defense contracts than in years past.
There is evidence that could be changing, however. Defense budgets in several influential countries, including the US, England, France and Japan, are now on the rise — along with security threats around the world.
It’s not as if there is less of a need for aerospace innovation in the defense sector — it’s just that demand is often swayed by the state of global military conflicts, and their unpredictability is a major challenge.
Still, the aerospace industry is poised for continued growth for the foreseeable future, both in terms of revenue and technological innovation. In the coming years, there will be plenty of demand for quieter, smoother and more ergonomically sound designs, and that should continue to drive aerospace technology forward.