Going beyond instrumentation to new types of aircraft propulsion


Massive changes are being made to propulsion systems and fuels in aviation as part of the industry’s drive to achieve zero-emission aircraft and improve environmental sustainability.

New types of engines, fuel cells and batteries are being developed as well as new systems for the storage, transmission and delivery of fuels. These innovations place increased demands on engineers who must test, monitor and inspect propulsion systems and aircraft infrastructure to the highest performance and safety standards.

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Supplier of automated test and measurement systems NEITHER (formerly National Instruments) supports companies and engineers working on the front lines to meet these challenges. The company helps develop systems and instrumentation for next-generation propulsion systems in the aerospace sector.


The NI Aerospace and Defense team has discovered that control and monitoring solutions developed by the space industry, particularly with vendors and launch facilities, can be directly leveraged in cryogenic aerospace applications.

NI works with pristine orbit, which plans to make the UK’s first horizontal space launch from its carrier aircraft over Cornwall later this year. This is in addition to the work NI has done with European launch vendors such as Augsburg Rocket Factory and PLD space, while also being in active talks with several of the launch facilities under development across Europe. NI also works with many major New Space players in the United States.

Nathan Nims, NI Aerospace and Defense Business Manager for EMEA, said, “Our equipment is rugged, stable, and deployed in cabinets. With cryogenic materials, you need to be able to react quickly with control loops that operate up to 100 times per second to ensure you don’t get overpressure. NI platforms offer a unique overlap of reliable precision measurement and control technologies, which is vital for the safe control and monitoring of cryogenic refueling systems.

“We focused on requirements to move hydrogen safely, such as fuel supply, purge supply, instrumentation, flow control and pressure monitoring. We know things like where instrumentation should be located and how to safely minimize signal length to guard against degradation while ensuring safety.

CAD of rocket launch facility

NI Aerospace and Defense team works with launch providers to ensure safe transmission and delivery of cryogenic fuels

According to Nims, rocket launch facilities are very similar to hydrogen powertrains and other related technologies being developed for aviation. “They contain cryogenic materials whose temperature and pressures you need to control and monitor as you deliver them.

“The point of delivery can be a rocket fuel tank, an aircraft fuel cell, or a jet engine’s direct combustion process, but the basic systems are the same.

“The work we’ve done already means we know the typical design, reference architectures, and BOMs. So instead of a customer buying a chassis, boards, and cables, they can buy a plug-and-play solution. -play.”

Working in partnership

This approach is part of how NI now wants to work with industry. Traditionally a hardware-focused company, instead of just giving a customer updated devices and promoting its features every year, the company is now focusing on partnering more closely and developing an understanding of the customer app. NI has also evolved its business to work with industry partners to rapidly mature emerging technologies through co-funded and government-funded research and technology projects.

“That could mean we provide reference designs and certified workflows, for example. Either way, our goal is to offer a more complete solution, one that allows a customer to operate faster and at a lower cost,” says Nims. “It’s an approach that normally works best for tasks that don’t have a good solution, or where an existing solution is expensive.”

The application-driven strategy can be applied across aerospace, from R&D to flight testing and certification. There are also places where solutions adapt very easily to all sectors – for example, electrification systems and batteries developed for automotive applications can often be used in aerospace.

Rolls-Royce engine tests

NI worked with Rolls-Royce to help them instrument the facilities its engineers use to test turbofans, like the new Test bench 80 at its headquarters in Derby, UK. The work went well beyond the supply of materials.

The effective and efficient operation of increasingly large and complex engine test facilities and the recording, storage and use of test data are critical to the success of an engine development program.

Engine test benches

Aircraft engine test facilities are complex operations that produce huge amounts of data to analyze

A key requirement for the Rolls-Royce test engineers was that they didn’t want to have to completely redesign the software that runs the test cells every time they made a change to a test.

“They wanted modular reconfigurable test cells, which can be supported with plug-and-play hardware. This allows test cells to be changed quickly between production and development testing as well as allowing rapid changeover between engine models with minimal setup time,” says Nims.

NI has worked closely with Rolls-Royce to co-develop a new communications protocol for data transfer, calibration, and synchronization called iDDS (instrumented Distributed Data Service) that has been tested and deployed on the platform. NI hardware. iDDS is a plug-and-play solution for large-scale distributed test cells that is front-end independent – it can use LabView, a C interface, or a third-party HMI.

DDS is an international standard originally designed for robotics and the Internet of Things that is now widely used in the defense industry to analyze information in a publish-and-subscribe process. iDDS was also designed as an open standard that enables modular and reconfigurable plug-and-play instrumentation for test cells.

NI worked with Rolls-Royce to build the iDDS infrastructure and built an application layer on top of its hardware that allows iDDS to be plug-and-play. “The supply chain can meet the iDDS standard and Rolls-Royce can scale up, down and reconfigure its test cells more easily,” says Nims.

“All of the different metrics and sensors we support are natively integrated into iDDS and require no additional development effort from the Rolls-Royce team to implement.”

iDDS also translates into other applications, such as facility-wide health monitoring systems for testing facilities. Nims believes the standard has the potential to be used to test aerospace applications.

“For iDDS to be adopted, we need to show that it has a broader use case than testing turbofan engines in rig-80 sized facilities,” says Nims.

engine check

iDDS makes it easier for engineers to change test cell configuration without significantly changing software and controls

“We are looking for other potential users of iDDS – wind tunnels, structural testing. It could be used in all large mechanically driven systems that need to be extensively instrumented with multiple systems around a facility. We also look at how it can fit into smaller environments, smaller test benches, and cells in a lab. »

“We are excited to see investments in new technologies – battery-powered flight, hydrogen engines, renewed space travel. NI is in an excellent position to support many different industries in the development of these new technologies and to find ways to apply lessons learned in one industry to other industries. It’s an exciting time to work in the measurement industry,” concludes Nims.

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