HALE UAV, high altitude long endurance, solar powered aircraft, drone, trajectory optimization, propulsion optimization, co-design


Combined optimization of propulsion system design, flight trajectory planning and battery mass optimization for solar-regenerative high-altitude long endurance (SRHALE) aircraft through a sequential iterative approach yields an increase of 20.2% in the end-of-day energy available on the winter solstice at 35 deg N latitude, resulting in an increase in flight time of 2.36 hours. The optimized flight path is obtained by using nonlinear model predictive control to solve flight and energy system dynamics over a 24 hour period with a 15 second time resolution. The optimization objective is to maximize the total energy in the system while flying a station-keeping mission, staying within a 3 km radius and above 60,000 ft. The propulsion system design optimization minimizes the total energy required to fly the optimal path. It uses a combination of blade element momentum theory, blade composite structures, empirical motor and motor controller mass data, as well as a first order motor performance model. The battery optimization seeks to optimally size the battery for a circular orbit. Fixed point iteration between these optimization frameworks yields a flight path and propulsion system that slightly decreases solar capture, but significantly decreases power expended. Fully coupling the trajectory and design optimizations with this level of accuracy is infeasible with current computing resources. These efforts show the benefits of combining design and trajectory optimization to enable the feasibility of SRHALE flight.

Original Publication Citation

Gates, N. S., Moore, K. R., Ning, A., and Hedengren, J. D., “Combined Trajectory, Propulsion, and Battery Mass Optimization for Solar-Regenerative High-Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aircraft,” AIAA Scitech 2019 Forum, San Diego, CA, Jan. 2019. doi:10.2514/6.2019-1221

Document Type

Conference Paper

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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Mechanical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor