International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

X-57 Maxwell: NASA’s first electric plane


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : X-57 Maxwell

Mains level : Significance of the aircraft for the space missions

  • NASA unveiled its first all-electric experimental aircraft X-57 Maxwell which was being developed since 2015.


  • The Maxwell is the latest in a line of experimental aircraft the NASA.
  • It has been developed over many decades for many purposes, including the bullet-shaped Bell X-1 that first broke the sound barrier and the X-15 rocket plane flown by Neil Armstrong before he joined the Apollo moon team.
  • The two largest of 14 electric motors that will ultimately propel the plane are powered by specially designed lithium ion batteries.
  • The Maxwell will be the agency’s first crewed X-plane to be developed in two decades.
  • The lift propellers will be activated for take-off and landings, but retract during the flight’s cruise phase.

What makes it significant?

  • Electric motor systems are more compact with fewer moving parts than internal-combustion engines, they are simpler to maintain and weigh much less, requiring less energy to fly.
  • They also are quieter that conventional engines.
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