NASA Is Researching Flying Wind Turbines

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With a $100,000 grant from the federal government, Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at the Systems Analysis Branch of NASA's Langley Research Center, is going to study different approaches to harvesting energy from the wind at high altitudes. Not 100 or 200 feet, but 10,000 or 30,000 feet. Moore plans to look at all of the different airborne wind turbine ideas that have been proposed and find a way to compare their strengths and weaknesses.

"It's the first federally funded research effort to look at airborne wind capturing platforms," Moore said. "We're trying to create a level playing field of understanding, where all of the concepts and approaches can be compared -- what's similar about them? What's different about them, and how can you compare them?"

He likens the development of wind-borne energy to flight itself, adding that "this is like being back in 1903. Everybody's got a dog to show. Everybody's got a different way of doing it?"

But the Wright Brothers didn't have to deal with a crowded sky and the laws regulating it when they took off at Kitty Hawk. When they invented the airplane, they also created competition for airspace that makes creating air-borne power generation much more difficult.

"Airspace is a commodity," Moore said. "You have to be able to use airspace without disrupting it for other players. Smaller aircraft are still going to need to fly around. Larger airplanes, you can't expect them to fly around every wind turbine that has a two-mile radius as a protected flight zone."

Read the full story at NASA.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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