Axial Halbach Magnetic Bearings

Complex active control systems are not needed.

Axial Halbach magnetic bearings have been investigated as part of an effort to develop increasingly reliable noncontact bearings for future high-speed rotary machines that may be used in such applications as aircraft, industrial, and land- vehicle power systems and in some medical and scientific instrumentation systems. Axial Halbach magnetic bearings are passive in the sense that unlike most other magnetic bearings that have been developed in recent years, they effect stable magnetic levitation without need for complex active control.

In simplest terms, the basic principle of levitation in an axial Halbach magnetic bearing is that of the repulsive electromagnetic force between (1) a moving permanent magnet and (2) an electric current induced in a stationary electrical conductor by the motion of the magnetic field. An axial Halbach bearing includes multiple permanent magnets arranged in a Halbach array (“Halbach array” is defined below) in a rotor and multiple conductors in the form of wire coils in a stator, all arranged so the rotary motion produces an axial repulsion that is sufficient to levitate the rotor.

A basic Halbach array (see Figure 1) consists of a row of permanent magnets, each oriented so that its magnetic field is at a right angle to that of the adjacent magnet, and the right-angle turns are sequenced so as to maximize the magnitude of the magnetic flux density on one side of the row while minimizing it on the opposite side. The advantage of this configuration is that it makes it possible to approach the theoretical maximum force per unit area that could be exerted by a given amount of permanent-magnet material. The configuration is named after physicist Klaus Halbach, who conceived it for use in particle accelerators. Halbach arrays have also been studied for use in magnetic-levitation (“maglev”) railroad trains.

In an axial Halbach magnetic bearing, the basic Halbach arrangement is modified into a symmetrical arrangement of sector-shaped permanent magnets in a disk on the rotor (see Figure 2). The magnets are oriented to concentrate the magnetic field on one of the axial faces of the disk — the lower face in Figure 2. The stator coils are mounted in a symmetrical arrangement below the disk.

At a given radial and axial coordinate relative to the disk, the magnetic flux along any given direction varies approximately sinusoidally with the azimuthal angular coordinate. When the disk rotates, the temporal variation of the magnetic field intercepted by the stator coils induces electric currents, thereby generating a repulsive electromagnetic force. The circuits of the stator coils may be terminated with external inductors, the values of which are chosen to modify the phase shifts of voltage and currents so as to maximize the axial repulsion. At and above a critical speed that depends on the specific design, the repulsive force is sufficient to levitate the rotor. During startup, shutdown, and other events in which the rate of rotation falls below the critical speed, the rotor comes to rest on an auxiliary mechanical bearing.

This work was done by Dennis J. Eichenberg, Christopher A. Gallo, and William K. Thompson of Glenn Research Center.

Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to NASA Glenn Research Center, Innovative Partnerships Office, Attn: Steve Fedor, Mail Stop 4–8, 21000 Brookpark Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44135. Refer to LEW-18066-1.

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