CERN and Airbus collaboration aims high

10 January 2023
Superconducting rare-earth barium copper oxide

On 1 December, CERN and Airbus UpNext, a wholly owned subsidiary of Airbus, launched a collaboration to explore the use of superconducting technologies in the electrical distribution systems of future hydrogen-powered aircraft. The partnership will bring together CERN’s expertise in superconducting technologies for particle accelerators and Airbus UpNext’s capabilities in aircraft design and manufacturing to develop a demonstrator known as SCALE (Super-Conductor for Aviation with Low Emissions).

Superconducting technologies could drastically reduce the weight of next-generation aircraft and increase their efficiency. If its expected performances and reliability objectives are achieved, the CERN–Airbus collaboration could reach the ambitious target of flying a fully integrated prototype within the next decade, says the firm. The joint initiative seeks to develop and test in laboratory conditions, an optimised generic superconductor cryogenic (~500 kW) powertrain by the end of 2025. SCALE will be designed, constructed and tested by CERN using Airbus UpNext specifications and CERN technology. It will consist of a DC link (cable and cryostat) with two current leads, and a cooling system based on gaseous helium.

“Partnering with a leading research institute like CERN, which has brought the world some of the most important findings in fundamental physics, will help to push the boundaries of research in clean aerospace as we work to make sustainable aviation a reality,” said Sandra Bour-Schaeffer, CEO of Airbus UpNext. “We are already developing a superconductivity demonstrator called ASCEND (Advanced Superconducting and Cryogenic Experimental powertrain Demonstrator) to study the feasibility of this technology for electrically powered and hybrid aircraft. Combining knowledge obtained from our demonstrator and CERN’s unique capabilities in the field of superconductors makes for a natural partnership.”

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