NASA awards $253M to two companies developing electric propulsion tech for aircraft

NASA has chosen two U.S. companies to develop electric propulsion technologies for aircraft, with the aim of introducing this tech to U.S. aviation fleets by 2035.

The two companies, GE Aviation and MagniX, will conduct their work over the next five years. That includes ground and flight test demonstrations, as well as collaborations with other NASA projects focused on electric propulsion, data analysis and flight test instrumentation.

The awards, granted under the agency’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) program, have a combined value of $253.4 million. Of that, $179 million was awarded to GE Aviation, with MagniX receiving $74.3 million.

“GE Aviation and MagniX will perform integrated megawatt-class powertrain system ground and flight demonstrations to validate their concepts, and project benefits for future [electrified aircraft propulsion] aircraft configurations,” NASA’s Gaudy Bezos-O’Connor, EPFD project manager explained in a statement. “These demonstrations will identify and retire technical barriers and integration risks. It will also help inform the development of standards and regulations for future EAP systems.”

The EPFD project is part of a larger NASA program called Integrated Aviation Systems, which conducts research and development to turn next-gen tech into real-world operational flight systems.

There are many companies working on electric flight propulsion systems, but these are generally found in emerging air taxi markets, where the flights are shorter and the weight of batteries is mitigated by the overall small size of the aircraft. As TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey explains, needing to generate lift and the weight of batteries have been the “fundamental conundrum” that has held back electric planes.

Perhaps these public-private partnerships will finally crack the puzzle. The NASA project aims to develop tech for short-range and regional air travel, as well as narrow-body, single-aisle aircraft.