Technological Advancements in the Aerospace Industry

Babis Papaspyros*

The aerospace industry is continually evolving alongside technological advancements, enhancing its competitiveness and research capabilities. This sector drives progress in various other fields. 

Significant growth and investments in research and development (R&D) have led to the emergence of digital capabilities in areas such as composite materials, fuels, communications, and safety. The application and adaptation of these technologies in space programs will have a substantial impact in the coming years.
Annually, the aerospace sector invests $20 billion in innovation. According to a recent study (by Aviation Week Network and KPMG), it is at the forefront of many technological fields, acting as a source and catalyst for discoveries and significant advancements, as stated by Dr. Javier Ventura-Traveset, Director of the Galileo Navigation Science Office and representative of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Spain.
Globally, NASA remains the leading organization in terms of investment in the sector, while Europe ranks second in overall contribution. This contribution increased significantly at the latest ESA ministerial conference. Moreover, Russia, Japan, and India are also ramping up their investments in space programs and technologies. Particularly, China views the space sector as a technological priority, having launched more rockets than any other country since 2019. In any case, international cooperation in technological advancements is crucial to support the aerospace industry.
Technological Trends
Here are some of the most groundbreaking core technologies currently being developed:

  • Propulsion and Aerodynamics Technologies in Rockets and Satellites:

Competitive alternatives to current engines are being explored, such as electric propulsion systems based on Pulsed Plasma Thrusters (PPT) for satellites, and the development of reusable engines for launches. Airbus is a leader in this area, having recently unveiled three concepts for the world's first zero-emission hydrogen commercial aircraft, which could be operational by 2035. These concepts focus on hydrogen as the primary fuel, promising exceptionally clean aviation fuel.

  • Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF):

Many aerospace companies are researching the conversion of carbon dioxide into SAF, a non-petroleum-based alternative to jet fuel that offers lower greenhouse gas emissions. Besides hydrogen, bio-based fuels and carbon dioxide-based fuels are garnering research interest, attracting significant investments from airlines and the aviation industry.

  • Support and Protection Systems for Exploration Missions:

State-of-the-art systems are being developed for space missions, including special cooling techniques to maintain proper temperatures in space suits.

  • Advanced Scientific Sensors:

These technologies enhance scientific missions and earth observation with higher resolution and sensitivity.

  • Navigation and Satellite Communication Technologies:

Innovations are leading to new solutions and services such as high-capacity geostationary satellites, more flexible satellites for dynamic resource allocation, nanosatellite formations providing IoT connectivity, and large broadband satellite constellations.

  • Smart Maintenance:

Aircraft and spacecraft undergo immense stress throughout their lifecycle, requiring rigorous safety standards. Companies are increasingly using the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automate parts of the maintenance process, ensuring proactive maintenance of components and equipment.

  • Material Science:

High-performance materials like advanced lightweight alloys, high-temperature-resistant materials, multifunctional composites, and materials for new processes like additive manufacturing (3D printing) are being developed. New alloys have made additive manufacturing feasible for the aerospace industry, going beyond rapid prototyping to creating fully functional components.

  • Autonomous Flight Systems and AI:

Automation is rising in aerospace engineering across nearly every aspect of flight. AI handles complex problems and processes thousands of results quickly compared to human capabilities, enhancing communication and data processing efficiency.

  • Safety as a Priority:

Technological innovations in aerospace inherently emphasize safety, from rocket launches and manned space missions to life support systems on the International Space Station. Security measures for navigation systems like EGNOS and Galileo, communication satellites, and earth observation data provision are critical.

  • Operating in Extreme Conditions:

Satellites must operate in high vacuum conditions with massive radiation and temperature fluctuations. This requires highly reliable onboard electronics and lightweight components to minimize launch costs. Understanding material properties and developing advanced manufacturing processes are crucial to reducing vulnerabilities.

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs):

UAVs or drones are increasingly integrated into civil and military applications, from reconnaissance and satellite deployment to urban air mobility (UAM) and delivery processes. These advancements demand innovations in navigation, propulsion, and fuel efficiency to maintain low emissions and noise levels.

With these innovations and a growth mindset prevalent throughout the industry, the aerospace sector continues to expand. These new technologies will undergo extensive research, prototyping, testing, and production before they become mainstream.

European Space Agency (ESA)
Aviation Week Network
Mapfre Global Risks

* Brigadier General (Ret.), Hellenic Air Force Academy Electronic Engineer, former: Vice President of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry & General Secretary of Hellenic Aerospace Security & Defense Industries Group (HASDIG)