As one of the most innovative and progressive industries in the world, the aerospace sector makes use of just about every one of today’s cutting-edge technologies. Electronics and robotics can be found here alongside such areas as measuring, control and regulating technology. The field of aerospace is primarily concerned with the development and operation of flying objects such as conventional aeroplanes as well as specialised space ships and satellites.

The achievements and innovations in the field of aerospace not only serve as drivers for many other industries, but are also of major importance to the development of society as a whole. The global network of mobile telecommunications systems, for instance, is based among other things on breakthroughs made in the aerospace industry. Similarly, modern motor cars are a good example of the sector’s innovative strength; such things as antilock braking systems, park assists and navigation units, not to mention airbag sensors, were originally developed for the aerospace industry.

Key technologies, such as additive manufacturing and bionic design are finding their way more and more into the aerospace sector. Thanks to the use of efficient lightweight structures, it is now possible to produce aeroplane parts that are considerably lighter and sturdier, while the application of bionic procedures optimises their design. At the same time, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are reduced, which benefits the environment.

Harmonic Drive® gear in the aerospace industry

Whether passenger planes, spaceships or space probes – all flying objects encountered in the aerospace industry have one thing in common: their components must withstand enormous levels of mechanical stress, and, as such, they bear the highest level of responsibility for the success and safety of the flight or mission. In particular, the requirements placed on fundamental components such as precision gears are growing constantly. Positioning and repeat accuracy have absolute priority in aerospace, alongside high torque capacity, high torsional rigidity, and above all, light and compact construction.  Great reliability and power density are essential. This property profile is duly fulfilled by Harmonic Drive® gears. It is meanwhile over 40 years ago that the first gears made by Harmonic Drive AG were sent into space as part of the Apollo 15 mission, where they played a part in the successful moon landing, ultimately ending in a safe splashdown in the Pacific. Furthermore, component sets of the CPS series, among others, are used in satellites and solar panels, which benefit from the compact, light construction and engineering solution afforded by their weight-optimised design.

Precision and constant communication in the context of aerospace are among the most important characteristics of the flight control systems found in modern passenger and cargo planes. As a component of the high lift structure, the focus here is on the position pick-off unit, or PPU. This measures the actual position of the high lift system, which is responsible for the take-off and landing of modern passenger aircraft. The PPU operates under extreme environmental conditions and is exposed to enormous temperature fluctuations. Despite vibrations and impact stresses, it must be able to ensure robust and safe operation - over the entire service life of the aircraft. To enable them to meet these requirements, thousands of position pick-off units in the aerospace sector have been trusting in Harmonic Drive® gears for more than 25 years.

Milestones of the aerospace sector

Without doubt, the dream of flight is as old as humanity. For centuries, inventors and experimenters devised early concepts and models with the aim of conquering the air. Even now, when air transport has virtually become a way of life for many people and the ability to journey to distant galaxies is at least imaginable, aerospace remains a source of fascination. This constant enthusiasm coupled with the technical advances made in the industry are also of political interest and function as a starting point for globalisation.

The history of modern space travel began in 1957, with what was a shock for the western world. The former Soviet Union beat the United States to it when it successfully sent the first artificial satellite into space. Four years later, in April 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, in the Vostok 1 mission. Driven by what had become known as the space race, it was, however, the USA who put the first man on the moon, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the lunar surface in July 1969. Over the following years, communication and navigation satellites from the aerospace industry began to perform everyday functions. Today, there is a research laboratory located in a low orbit around the earth, in the form of the International Space Station, or ISS; this is a symbol of cooperation between former rivals and plays a major role in advancing scientific achievement in the aerospace sector.

The history of aviation follows a similar timeline to that of space travel. Once the Wright brothers had succeeded in making the first manned motorised flight in 1903, developments  followed on swiftly, not least because of their military relevance. The maiden flights of the American Boeing 747 and the French Concorde in 1969 ushered in the age of wide-body aircraft as well as those that flew at speeds beyond the sound barrier. Thanks to the worldwide network and large passenger numbers, the requirements placed on the cost-effectiveness and safety of aviation became increasingly stringent. To this day, passenger numbers are still on the increase, and the field of aviation as a whole is facing major challenges in the form of a wide range of regulations. Nevertheless, in 2017, the industry was able to look back at the safest year ever for the aviation industry.

Aerospace in the future

Weather monitoring, global communication and mobility, imaging, navigation, remote sensing – for all of these fields and others besides, the aviation industry plays an integral role. Its progressive development is driven by social, political and economic needs. Innovative advancements and precise optimisation, in particular with regard to economy and safety, are set to have a sustainable effect on the everyday lives of many people in years to come. Using robots to explore Mars, new satellite technologies, and 3D printing are all topics that are of great relevance to space travel, in an industry whose sights are set towards the future like those of no other sector.