Below is a Q&A with Dr. Sengupta to learn more about her.
This article was originally published on ebace.aero.
Q. Dr. Sengupta, could you briefly introduce yourself?
I am an aerospace engineer, rocket scientist, professor of astronautics and pilot. I spent most of my career (16 years) with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I started with my PhD research in plasma physics developing the ion engines that propelled the Dawn spacecraft to the main asteroid belt. Next, I led the supersonic parachute development for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover which safely landed on Mars in 2012. After that, I worked on the Orion human re-entry vehicle decelerator system, a Mars ascent vehicle, and a Venus Entry, Descent and Landing system, as a lead entry system engineer. My last project as NASA was managing the Cold Atom Laboratory Mission, an experimental laser-cooling quantum physics instrument that is now onboard the International Space Station quite literally creating matter that is just above absolute zero. I enjoy engineering and building complex systems.
I joined a hyperloop technology company in 2017 as senior vice president of systems engineering and safety certification, where I led the system architecture of a magnetically levitating passenger transport system capable of speeds up to 1,000 kph.
While at a mobility conference in 2018 I met Jon Rimanelli, founder/CEO of Airspace Experience Technologies (ASX). He later asked me to join him in his venture of ASX as its chief product officer and co-founder. As a pilot, aerospace engineer, and tech executive it was a fascinating opportunity to be one of the pioneers in this exciting green technology segment of aviation. We are focused on the emerging market for electrically-powered vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) urban air mobility as a vehicle developer and provider.
Q. You’ve been asked to participate in an EBACE2019 education session focused on disruptive transportation in the business aviation industry. What is your organisation’s involvement in this area?
I personally believe the urban mobility market is ready to take off. Studies have shown the industry’s potential for growth to more than one trillion dollars by 2030, and it’s not difficult to see why. The 2018 INRIX traffic study shows that in the U.S. alone drivers lost $87 billion and close to 100 hours due to congestion. So many major cities around the world have grown congested and establishing three-dimensional urban air networks offers the most promising method for relieving that congestion.
At ASX we want to play an integral role in reducing congestion on the road by elevating the commute or goods delivery, making it up to 5x faster than the regular drive and giving drivers the time back to me more productive. All of that at an affordable cost point.
Our MOBi-ONE tilt-wing aircraft offers up to 65 nautical miles of range when transporting four passengers (one safety pilot), or up to 1,100 pounds of cargo, across urban and suburban environments. It is powered by an integrated distributed electric propulsion system, greatly reducing CO2 emissions and acoustic noise as compare to traditional rotorcraft. We’ve successfully flown five sub-scale prototypes and hope to launch our full-scale certification aircraft upon completion of our Series A funding round now underway.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish through your EBACE2019 session?
Public communication is essential for us to share our ideas with the wider public about the advantages of eVTOL and its potential to improve the quality of people’s lives by reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. We are also starting our Series A fundraising campaign and establishing partnerships and suppliers for our full-scale vehicle build. EBACE provides us with an important networking opportunity where we can meet with potential partners such as avionics and cabin interior providers and others.
Q. How do you think the business aviation community has evolved in the last 12 months? Any particular challenges you want to highlight?
Earlier this year, I participated on a panel about the future of transportation at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). CES traditionally focuses on automotive technologies, yet multiple players in eVTOL had a significant presence and that’s a great thing to see.
As for challenges, from an engineering perspective, tilt-wing VTOL flight has already been proven by such aircraft as the military cargo-use V-22 Osprey. As our system is lower payload capacity for passenger transit and as such can be powered by batteries. Designing a VTOL around electric propulsion is a new architecture for commercial aviation but is able to leverage technology that is actively used in the automotive sector (electric cars). There are also regulatory challenges in this new space, but that’s mostly a matter of letting that process evolve and active and open engagement by private industry and regulatory bodies. Having large aerospace corporation (like Boeing) working on their own eVTOL projects helps validate the market and drive updates in the regulatory arena enabling us to bring these aircraft to market sooner.
Q. Take our three words challenge: pick three words to describe the future business aviation industry.
May I use five words instead? One of our company’s taglines is “air mobility for everyone, everywhere.” That not only summarizes our mission at ASX; I think it also represents the future for business aviation as a whole.