China’s EHang could begin commercial air-taxi services as early as 2021, as trials by electric vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicle-makers in pilot cities gather pace toward wider deployment of urban air mobility by 2023.
Amid growing alarm over the escalating risk of collisions as low-Earth-orbit megaconstellations proliferate, Astroscale’s ELSA-d capture demonstration in 2021 will be a first step toward a commercial debris-mitigation service.
Credit: Boeing Australia
The “loyal wingman” concept of unmanned aircraft cooperating with manned combat platforms will be put to the test in 2021, with flights of Boeing Australia’s Airpower Teaming System and U.S. Air Force Skyborg prototypes.
With U.S. hypersonic strike-missile testing set to accelerate and potential rollouts of Chinese and Russian stealth bombers—and Northrop Grumman’s B-21—superpower struggles for technology supremacy will ramp up in 2021.
Air travel could begin returning to pre-COVID levels by the second half of 2021, but at differing rates. Low-cost airlines likely will recover more rapidly than legacy and long-haul low-cost carriers, as business and international flying lags leisure and domestic traffic.
From Virgin Galactic’s first paying-passenger suborbital flights to the first orbital launches of SpaceX’s Starship Moon and Mars transporter, commercial enterprise will continue to open up access to space throughout 2021.
After decades spent at 150 kt., commercial rotorcraft will see a jump in speed with likely certification of Leonardo’s 275-kt. AW609, the first civil tiltrotor and first flight of Airbus’ 220-kt. Racer compound helicopter demonstrator.
A 250-mi. demonstration flight by ZeroAvia’s fuel-cell testbed early in 2021 in Scotland will add impetus to interest in hydrogen propulsion as a route to zero-emissions aviation. A 19-seat regional aircraft is set to follow by 2023.
A successful static firing of the Space Launch System core stage by the end of 2020 would keep NASA on track for an uncrewed Orion capsule flight test in November 2021—but odds on a human return to the Moon in 2024 are lengthening.
From loyal wingmen to hydrogen propulsion, here are some milestones expected in 2021.
Graham leads Aviation Week's coverage of technology, focusing on engineering and technology across the aerospace industry, with a special focus on identifying technologies of strategic importance to aviation, aerospace and defense.