Robust Automatic Pumping Cycle Operation of Airborne Wind Energy Systems

Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

2 Downloads (Pure)


Airborne wind energy (AWE) is a novel technology that aims at accessing wind resources at higher altitudes which cannot be reached with conventional wind turbines. This technological challenge is accomplished using tethered aircraft or kites in combination with either onboard or ground-based generators. In the former case, the kinetic energy of the air flow is transformed into electricity and transmitted via a conductive cable to the ground. In the latter case, the aerodynamic force of the aircraft or kite is translated into tether tension. The pulling force uncoils the tether from a drum which turns a generator and hence transforms the mechanical torque into electrical power on the ground. In this case two operational modes are required: In the first mode, the tether is reeled out until the maximum length is reached. It follows a reeling in phase where the aircraft or kite glides back towards the ground station and a fraction of the generated power is used to wind the tether again onto the drum of the winch. The cycle restarts as soon as the minimum tether length is reached. These two modes combined constitute a so-called pumping cycle. Reliability is a key system property that will decide over the success of AWE as a commercially feasible technology. To reach this goal, a well designed control system is required that can achieve the nominal control objectives as well as handle disturbances such as atmospheric turbulence and mismatches between the model used for the controller derivation and the real plant. In light of these challenges, the present work tries to make a contribution to bring AWE closer to commercial success. More specifically, a workflow to design a modular control architecture for a rigid wing AWE system operated in pumping cycle mode is presented. The thesis introduces models of different fidelity that are either directly used for the controller synthesis or in order to verify if the designed controller is able to meet its objectives. A quasi-stationary analysis is performed to describe the operational flight envelope and to derive linear state space models for the longitudinal and lateral flight controller synthesis. A generic outer loop controller, independent of the specific aircraft actuation, is designed which guides the system along the traction and retraction phase reference flight paths. A ground based winch controller is used to track the tether tension and hence the radial motion of the aircraft. To track the outer loop guidance commands several linear and nonlinear inner loop flight controllers are proposed. All controller designs are verified in detail using Monte Carlo simulations. The resulting distributions of critical metrics are used to quantify performance as well as robustness of the controllers in the presence of stochastic variations in the wind field and model uncertainties. In the last part of this thesis a methodology is proposed that can be used to systematically generate conditions in which the AWE control system is failing. The generated knowledge can be leveraged to create an analytic model that is able to predict during operation a critical flight state. Ultimately, this allows to trigger a mitigation maneuver to avoid the failure. Different prediction strategies are presented and eventually the methodology is specifically applied to the case of tether rupture condition generation, prediction and avoidance.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Delft University of Technology
  • van Bussel, G.J.W., Supervisor
  • Schmehl, R., Advisor
Award date3 Mar 2021
Print ISBNs978-94-6423-148-9
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Airborne Wind Energy
  • Flight Control
  • Robustness
  • Monte Carlo Simulations

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Robust Automatic Pumping Cycle Operation of Airborne Wind Energy Systems'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this