Actuators have been important components of planes and spacecraft. For many decades, hydraulic actuators were used to perform many operations in these vessels. They were used in many elements, from landing gear actuation to brake control. Pneumatic actuators have had their place in the aerospace industry too. There is a reason for the popularity. Both hydraulic and pneumatic systems are relatively inexpensive. But they deliver high power density.
Recently, the aerospace industry has reconsidered the role of these devices. In general, hydraulic and pneumatic actuators are heavy and bulky. They also need frequent maintenance. Moreover, they are vulnerable and represent security risks in high-performing crafts. Thus, designers have focused their attention on an alternative: the electric linear actuator.
Electric actuator technology has improved significantly in recent years. Now, more robust electric actuators are available. They also deliver higher power density than ever before. Their cost has also dropped. All these factors have prompted their step-by-step adoption. For example, 12v electric actuators can have applications in:
- Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs);
- Micro-air vehicles (MAVs);
- Robotic planetary exploration missions;
- Fine instrumentation.
But there are many other applications of electric actuators in the aerospace industry. Let’s review some of them in this article.
Applications in Flight Control
The aerospace industry has an interest in using electric actuators for flight control. But, this industry has specific requirements. Hence, different companies have tried to standardize these devices for commercial airplanes.
Airplanes use actuators for controlling the rudders, ailerons, and flaps. Currently, hydraulic systems perform these tasks in most cases. But soon, electric actuators can take over. Helicopters could use these devices also. Currently, hydraulic systems control the swash plates in most helicopters. This is a task that electric actuators could do more effectively.
What’s more, electric actuators could control directly the individual blades. For example, by changing the pitch of a blade, the motion of the helicopter would change. More advanced features such as morphing blades are possible with electric actuators. Likewise, electric actuators could control the rotor aerodynamics.
Applications in Spacecraft
Innovative actuators have potential applications in spacecraft. Particularly, the so-called piezoelectric actuators are suitable. These actuators generate low-noise. They create low vibration also. These characteristics make them perfect for spacecraft.
At the same time, electric actuators are robust. They tolerate harsh operational conditions. For example, during takeoff, these devices must endure severe vibration. Some piezoelectric actuators can even work as vibration and noise absorbers. This technology would be useful in commercial airplanes. Noise absorbers could reduce the discomfort from engine noise.
Applications in Space Exploration
The space industry utilizes novel actuators. The main need is a small size. For example, modern satellites carry more sophisticated instruments. The trend is the creation of smaller satellites, the so-called microsatellites. The small size reduces the launching costs. Thus, bulky and heavy actuators have no application here. Electric actuators are the best solution.
Likewise, the equipment on the satellite is smaller too. Their control mechanisms must be small as well. For example, optical instruments use micro-actuators. Thus, the actuator industry must meet these requirements. Many satellites carry high precision cameras for remote sensing and other tasks. To control the movements of the camera, the actuators must be precise. Thus, the requirements are miniaturization and precision.
Likewise, space exploration needs such precise actuators. Robotic exploration missions to Mars include drones. The control of such flying devices required novel electric actuators.
Applications in the Military Aerospace Industry
The military aerospace industry exhibits a similar trend. In this field, different governmental agencies are developing MAV technology. These small flying vehicles would carry out surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Some futuristic designs aim at reaching the size of an insect for these MAVs. Thus, the necessary actuators to build such micro-machines must be very small.
Electric actuators are safer. For commercial airplanes, safety is critical. By replacing old hydraulic systems, airplanes become safer. There won’t be pumps and pipes that may leak dangerous fluids. The same is true for spacecraft. For example, space exploration needs highly reliable actuators. Only electric ones can offer such reliability.
The aerospace industry can benefit greatly from the use of electric actuators. From commercial airplanes to interplanetary spacecraft, electric actuators can deliver many benefits. More safety, less weight, and more reliability are but a few.