Airborne wind energy systems present great promise for inexpensive, clean energy at remote locations, but have only been demonstrated through short-duration flights in very limited wind conditions. Because of the time and money that is required to implement full-scale airborne wind energy prototypes, convergence toward designs that achieve longer-duration flight in adverse weather has been slow. This paper presents an inexpensive rapid prototyping approach for improving the flight dynamics and control of airborne wind energy systems, which has been implemented and validated on Altaeros Energies most recent full-scale flight prototype. The approach involves the 3d printing of lab-scale water channel models of airborne wind energy lifting bodies, which enable prediction of dynamic flight characteristics, rapid iteration between the designs, identification of unknown or poorly known parameters, and improved control design. By applying this approach to its last prototype design cycle, Altaeros demonstrated robust operation in double the wind speeds sustained by its previous prototype (reaching a maximum of 21.2 m/s, with sustained 10–15 m/s winds), with demonstrably improved flight characteristics.

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