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Title:
TETHER GUIDE WITH TWO-SIDED OPEN TETHER CHANNEL
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/070735
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
A tether guide system operable through a wide range of tether/fleeting angles while causing minimal wear to the tether. The tether guide system may include a series of rollers arranged in a curved path. Also disclosed are tether guides with a sliding belt, a guide surface, or a guide wheel, all for use in the disclosed tether guide system.

Inventors:
PATTEN, Elias, Wolfgang (1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mount View, CA, 94043, US)
BELANI, Abhimanyu (1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, CA, 94043, US)
NELSON, Robert (1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, CA, 94043, US)
HACHTMANN, Brian (1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, CA, 94043, US)
MURPHY, Gabriel (1600 Amphitheater Parkway, Mountain View, CA, 94043, US)
Application Number:
US2018/053999
Publication Date:
April 11, 2019
Filing Date:
October 02, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MAKANI TECHNOLOGIES LLC (2017 Monarch Street, Alameda, California, 94501, US)
International Classes:
B64F3/00; B64C39/02; B66D1/38; F03D5/00; F03D9/25
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
ROHDE, Kurt, W. (McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, 300 South Wacker DriveChicago, IL, 60606, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

We claim:

1. A system comprising:

a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis, the winch drum comprising a tether winding surface;

a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset

in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum

axis;

a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support;

a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along;

a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis; and

a tether guide comprising:

a first retaining structure comprising a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller; and

a second retaining structure comprising a plurality of vertical rollers extending outward from the cassette plate,

wherein the first and second retaining structures together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the vertical rollers and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate, wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and

further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

2. The system of claim 1, wherein the plurality of vertical rollers define a curved path along at least a portion of a length of the channel.

3. The system of claim 2, wherein a minimum radius of the curved path is greater than a minimum bend radius of the tether.

4. The system of claim 3, wherein the minimum radius is at least 25 centimeters.

5. The tether guide of claim 1, wherein an axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller is coplanar to an axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller, and wherein each vertical roller has an axis of rotation that is substantially perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller.

6. The tether guide of claim 1 , wherein one or more of the vertical rollers comprise: an outer compliant layer; and a rigid core.

7. The tether guide of claim 1 , wherein one or more of the horizontal rollers comprise: an outer compliant layer; and a rigid core.

8. A system comprising:

a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis, the winch drum comprising a tether winding surface;

a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis;

a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support;

a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along;

a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis; and

a tether guide comprising:

a first retaining structure comprising a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller; and

a second retaining structure comprising a vertical guide plate extending outward from the cassette plate,

wherein the first and second retaining structures together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the vertical guide plate and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate, wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and

further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein the guide plate defines a curved path along at least a portion of a length of the channel.

10. The system of claim 9, wherein a minimum radius of the curved path is greater than a minimum bend radius of the tether.

11. The system of claim 10, wherein the minimum radius is at least 25 centimeters.

12. The system of claim 8, wherein an axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller is coplanar to an axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller, and wherein the vertical guide plate is substantially perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller.

13. A system comprising:

a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis, the winch drum comprising a tether winding surface;

a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis;

a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support;

a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along;

a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis; and

a tether guide comprising: a first retaining structure comprising a roller mounting structure, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller; and

a second retaining structure comprising a vertical shaft extending outward from the roller mounting structure and a guide wheel rotatable about the vertical shaft, wherein the guide wheel has a diameter greater than a linear distance between the front horizontal roller and the rear horizontal roller,

wherein the front horizontal roller, the rear horizontal roller, and a portion of the outer circumference of the guide wheel together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the portion of the outer circumference of the guide wheel and an open fourth side opposite the front horizontal roller and the rear horizontal roller, wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

14. The system of claim 13, wherein the diameter of the guide wheel is at least 50 centimeters.

15. The system of claim 13, wherein an axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller is coplanar to an axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller, and wherein the vertical shaft is substantially perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller.

16. A system comprising:

a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis, the winch drum comprising a tether winding surface;

a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis;

a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support;

a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along;

a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis; and

a tether guide comprising:

a first retaining structure comprising a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller;

a guide structure comprising a vertical guide plate extending outward from the cassette plate; and

a belt encircling the guide structure and configured to slide along a surface of the guide structure,

wherein the first retaining structures and the belt together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the belt and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate, wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and

further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

17. The system of claim 16, wherein the guide structure defines a curved path along at least a portion of a length of the channel and along which the belt is configured to slide.

18. The tether guide of claim 16, wherein an axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller is coplanar to an axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller, and wherein the guide structure extends outward in a direction substantially perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the rear horizontal roller.

19. The tether guide of claim 16, wherein one or more of the horizontal rollers comprise: an outer compliant layer; and a rigid core.

Description:
Tether Guide with Two-Sided Open Tether Channel

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

[0001] This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Application No. 62/567,466, filed October 3, 2017, which is a continuation-in-part of U.S. Patent Application No. 15/368,226, filed December 2, 2016, both of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety.

BACKGROUND

[0002] Unless otherwise indicated herein, the materials described in this section are not prior art to the claims in this application and are not admitted to be prior art by inclusion in this section.

[0003] Power generation systems may convert chemical and/or mechanical energy

(e.g., kinetic energy) to electrical energy for various applications, such as utility systems. As one example, a wind energy system may convert kinetic wind energy to electrical energy.

[0004] The use of wind turbines as a means for harnessing energy has been used for a number of years. Conventional wind turbines typically include large turbine blades positioned atop a tower. The cost of manufacturing, erecting, maintaining, and servicing such wind turbine towers is significant.

[0005] An alternative to the costly wind turbine towers that may be used to harness wind energy is the use of an aerial vehicle that is attached to a ground station with an electrically conductive tether. Such an alternative may be referred to as an energy kite or an Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT).

SUMMARY

[0006] The present disclosure generally relates to a winch drum levelwind carrier system that may be used to facilitate winding and unwinding of a tether. The present disclosure also relates to winch systems that may be used in an Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT) system grounds station and that winch an aerial vehicle attached to the ground station by an electrically conductive tether. The systems disclosed herein may allow for more reliable, safe, and cost effective tether winding.

[0007] In one aspect, a system is provided. The system provides a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis. The winch drum includes a tether winding surface. The system also provides a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis. The system also provides a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support, a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along, a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis, and a tether guide. The tether guide includes a first retaining structure comprising a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller, and a second retaining structure. The second retaining structure includes a plurality of vertical rollers extending outward from the cassette plate, wherein the first and second retaining structures together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the vertical rollers and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate, wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

[0008] In another aspect, a system is provided. The system provides a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis. The winch drum includes a tether winding surface. The system also provides a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis. The system also provides a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support, a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along, a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis, and a tether guide. The tether guide includes a first retaining structure that includes a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller. The tether guide also includes a second retaining structure that includes a vertical guide plate extending outward from the cassette plate, wherein the first and second retaining structures together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the vertical guide plate and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate, and wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

[0009] In another aspect, a system is provided. The system provides a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis. The winch drum includes a tether winding surface. The system also provides a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis. The system also provides a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support, a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along, a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis, and a tether guide. The tether guide includes a first retaining structure that includes a roller mounting structure, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller. The tether guide also includes a second retaining structure that includes a vertical shaft extending outward from the roller mounting structure and a guide wheel rotatable about the vertical shaft, wherein the guide wheel has a diameter greater than a linear distance between the front horizontal roller and the rear horizontal roller, and wherein the front horizontal roller, the rear horizontal roller, and a portion of the outer circumference of the guide wheel together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the portion of the outer circumference of the guide wheel and an open fourth side opposite the front horizontal roller and the rear horizontal roller, and wherein the open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel, and further wherein, the tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

[00010] In another aspect, a system is provided. The system provides a winch drum rotatably coupled to a drum support and rotatable about a drum axis. The winch drum includes a tether winding surface. The system also provides a transverse support coupled to the drum support, wherein the transverse support is offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface and substantially parallel to the central drum axis. The system also provides a shuttle movably coupled to the transverse support, a drive system configured to move the shuttle along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis along, a guide support coupled to the shuttle via a first pivot joint at a proximate end of the guide support and rotatable about a first pivot axis, wherein the first pivot axis is substantially parallel to the central drum axis, and a tether guide. The tether guide includes a first retaining structure that includes a cassette plate, a front horizontal roller, and a rear horizontal roller. The tether guide also includes a guide structure that includes a vertical guide plate extending outward from the cassette plate. The tether guide further includes a belt encircling the guide structure and configured to slide along a surface of the guide structure. The first retaining structures and the belt together define a two-sided channel with an open third side opposite the belt and an open fourth side opposite the cassette plate. The open third side and the open fourth side extend a length of the tether guide and are configured to allow a tether to enter and leave the channel. The tether guide is coupled to a distal end of the guide support via a second pivot joint rotatable about a second pivot axis that is substantially parallel to the first pivot axis.

[00011] These as well as other aspects, advantages, and alternatives, will become apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art by reading the following detailed description, with reference where appropriate to the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] Figure 1 is a perspective view of an example embodiment of an airborne wind turbine in a flight mode, including an aerial vehicle attached to a ground station by a tether.

[0013] Figure 2 is a close-up perspective view of the aerial vehicle shown in Figure 1.

[0014] Figure 3 is a side view of an example embodiment of an airborne wind turbine in a non-flying perched mode, including an aerial vehicle attached to a ground station by a tether, where the aerial vehicle is perched on a perch panel of the ground station.

[0015] Figure 4 is a top view of an airborne wind turbine.

[0016] Figure 5 is a side view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system.

[0017] Figure 6 is a top view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system.

[0018] Figure 7 is a front view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system.

[0019] Figure 8 is a side view of an example embodiment of a tether guide a portion of a pivot arm.

[0020] Figure 9 is a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0021] Figure 10 is an underside view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0022] Figure 11 is an underside view of an example embodiment of a tether guide, with portions removed for visual clarity.

[0023] Figure 12 is an underside view of an example embodiment of a tether guide, with portions removed for visual clarity.

[0024] Figure 13 is an underside view of an example embodiment of a tether guide, with portions removed for visual clarity.

[0025] Figure 14 is a front view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system.

[0026] Figure 15A is a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0027] Figure 15B is a top view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0028] Figure 15C is a bottom view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0029] Figure 16A is a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0030] Figure 16B is a top view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0031] Figure 16C is a bottom view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0032] Figure 17A is a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide. [0033] Figure 17B is a top view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0034] Figure 17C is a bottom view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0035] Figure 18A is a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0036] Figure 18B is a top view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

[0037] Figure 18C is a bottom view of an example embodiment of a tether guide.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0038] Example methods and systems are described herein. Any example embodiment or feature described herein is not necessarily to be construed as preferred or advantageous over other embodiments or features. The example embodiments described herein are not meant to be limiting. It will be readily understood that certain aspects of the disclosed methods and systems can be arranged and combined in a wide variety of different configurations, all of which are contemplated herein.

[0039] Furthermore, all of the Figures described herein are representative only and the particular arrangements shown in the Figures should not be viewed as limiting. It should be understood that other embodiments may include more or less of each element shown in a given Figure. Further, some of the illustrated elements may be combined or omitted. Yet further, an example embodiment may include elements that are not illustrated in the Figures.

I. Overview

[0040] Wind energy systems, such as an Airborne Wind Turbine (AWT), may be used to convert wind energy to electrical energy. An AWT is a wind based energy generation device that may include an aerial vehicle that is attached to a ground station by an electrically conductive tether. The aerial vehicle may be constructed of a rigid wing with a plurality of mounted turbines. The aerial vehicle may be operable to fly in a path across the wind, such as a substantially circular path above the ground (or water) to convert kinetic wind energy to electrical energy. In such crosswind flight, the aerial vehicle may fly across the wind in a circular partem similar to the tip of a wind turbine blade. The turbines attached to the rigid wing may be used to generate power by slowing the wing down. In particular, air moving across the turbine blades may force the blades to rotate, driving a generator to produce electricity. The aerial vehicle may also be connected to a ground station via an electrically conductive tether that transmits power generated by the aerial vehicle to the ground station, and on to a grid.

[0041] The electrically conductive tether may be configured to withstand one or more forces of the aerial vehicle when the aerial vehicle is in flight mode (e.g., takeoff, landing, hover flight, forward flight, and/or crosswind flight). As such, the tether may include a core constructed of high strength fibers. In addition to transmitting electrical energy generated by the aerial vehicle to the ground station, as noted above, the tether may also be used to transmit electricity from the ground station to the aerial vehicle in order to power the aerial vehicle during operation. Accordingly, the tether may also include one or more electrical conductors for the transmission of electrical energy generated by the aerial vehicle and/or transmission of electricity to the aerial vehicle. In some embodiments, the tether may include a plurality of insulated electrical conductors that surround the tether core. In some embodiments, the tether may also include one or more optical conductors for the transmission of data to and from the aerial vehicle.

[0042] When it is desired to land the aerial vehicle, the electrically conductive tether may be wound onto a spool or winch drum on the ground station and the aerial vehicle may be reeled in towards a perch on the ground station. Prior to landing on the perch, the aerial vehicle may transition from a flying mode to a hover mode. The drum may be further rotated to further wind the tether onto the drum until the aerial vehicle comes to rest on the perch.

[0043] The winch drum may have a tether winding surface that consists of one more helical channels into which the tether lays when wound onto the drum. The channels may constrain the tether in one or more dimensions in order to guide the tether into a particular winding pattem and/or to prevent the tether from moving laterally during winding or unwinding. A levelwind system may assist in guiding the tether into grooves or onto a particular location of the winch drum. The levelwind may constrain a portion of the tether during winding or unwinding and apply a bias force to keep the tether pressed onto the winch drum and/or located laterally along the length of the winch drum.

II. Illustrative Airborne Wind Turbines

[0044] As illustrated in Figures 1-2, an example embodiment of an Airborne Wind

Turbine (AWT) 10 is disclosed. AWT 10 is a wind based energy generation device that includes an aerial vehicle 20 constructed of a rigid wing 22 with mounted motor/generators (including rotors) 40a and 40b that flies in a path, such as a substantially circular path, across the wind. In an example embodiment, the aerial vehicle 20 may fly between 250 and 600 meters above the ground (or water) to convert kinetic wind energy to electrical energy. However, an aerial vehicle 20 may fly at other heights without departing from the scope of the invention. In crosswind flight, the aerial vehicle 20 flies across the wind in a circular pattem similar to the tip of a wind turbine. The motor/generators 40a and 40b attached to the rigid wing 22 are used to generate power. Drag forces from air moving across the rotor blades 45 forces them to rotate, driving the motor/generator to produce electricity. The aerial vehicle 20 is connected to a ground station 50 via an electrically conductive tether 30 that transmits power generated by the aerial vehicle 20 to the ground station 50, and potentially on to a power grid.

[0045] As shown in Figure 1, the aerial vehicle 20 may be connected to the tether 30, and the tether 30 may be connected to the ground station 50. In this example, the tether 30 may be attached to the ground station 50 at one location on the ground station 50. The tether 30 may be attached to the aerial vehicle 20 at three locations on the aerial vehicle 20 using bridal 32a, 32b, and 32c. However, in other examples, the tether 30 may be attached at a single location or multiple locations to any part of the ground station 50 and/or the aerial vehicle 20.

[0046] The ground station 50 may be used to hold and/or support the aerial vehicle 20 until it is in an operational flight mode. The ground station may include a tower 52 that may be on the order of 15 meters tall. The ground station may include a platform 72 that is rotatable relative to the tower 52. The ground station may also include a drum support 90.

[0047] The ground station may also include a winch drum 80 rotatable about drum central axis 80a that is used to reel in aerial vehicle 20 by winding the tether 30 onto the rotatable drum 80. In this example, the drum 80 is coupled to drum support 90 and oriented vertically, although the drum may also be oriented horizontally (or at an angle) in some embodiments. Drum 80 may be rotatable relative to drum support 90. For example, a slewing bearing may couple drum 80 and drum support 90. The slewing bearing may be rotated by one or more motors about an axis of rotation, such as the drum central axis 80a. A gimbal mount 83 may be coupled to winch drum 80 to mount a gimbal 84. For example, gimbal 84 may be configured to rotate about one or more axes and be coupled to, and/or constrain a portion of, the tether 30.

[0048] Further, the ground station 50 may be further configured to receive the aerial vehicle 20 during a landing. For example, at least one support member 56 may extend from platform 72 and support at least one perch panel 58. Figure 1 illustrates two support members 56 supporting a single perch panel 58, and other variations are possible. Support member(s) 56 may be fixedly attached to platform 72 so that support member(s) 56 and perch panel(s) 58 rotate with the platform. When the tether 30 is wound onto drum 80, and the aerial vehicle 20 is reeled in towards the ground station 50, the aerial vehicle 20 may come to rest upon perch panel 58.

[0049] The ground station 50 may be formed of any material that can suitably keep the aerial vehicle 20 attached and/or anchored to the ground while in hover flight, forward flight, or crosswind flight. In some implementations, ground station 50 may be configured for use on land. However, ground station 50 may also be implemented on a body of water, such as a lake, river, sea, or ocean. For example, a ground station could include or be arranged on a floating off-shore platform, a boat, or fixed to a sea floor, among other possibilities. Further, ground station 50 may be configured to remain stationary or to move relative to the ground or the surface of a body of water. [0050] The tether 30 may transmit electrical energy generated by the aerial vehicle 20 to the ground station 50. In addition, the tether 30 may transmit electricity to the aerial vehicle 20 in order to power the aerial vehicle 20 during takeoff, landing, hover flight, and/or forward flight. Further, the tether 30 may transmit data between the aerial vehicle 20 and ground station 50. The tether 30 may be constructed in various forms and using various materials that may allow for the transmission, delivery, and/or harnessing of electrical energy generated by the aerial vehicle 20 and/or transmission of electricity to the aerial vehicle 20. For example, the tether 30 may include one or more electrical conductors. The tether 30 may also be constructed of a material that allows for the transmission of data to and from the aerial vehicle 20. For example, the tether may also include one or more optical conductors.

[0051] The tether 30 may also be configured to withstand one or more forces of the aerial vehicle 20 when the aerial vehicle 20 is in an operational mode. For example, the tether 30 may include a core configured to withstand one or more forces of the aerial vehicle 20 when the aerial vehicle 20 is in hover flight, forward flight, and/or crosswind flight. The core may be constructed from various types of high strength fibers and/or a carbon fiber rod. In some embodiments, the tether has a fixed length of 500 meters.

[0052] In one embodiment of the tether, the tether 30 may include a central high- strength core surrounded by a plurality of electrical conductors. The core may comprise a single strand or multiple helically wound strands. Electrical conductors may be provided around the core. An outer sheath may also be provided. In some embodiments, one or more of the electrical conductors may be replaced with one or more optical conductors.

[0053] The aerial vehicle 20 may include or take the form of various types of devices, such as a kite, a helicopter, a wing and/or an airplane, an inflatable structure, or other possibilities. The aerial vehicle 20 may be formed of solid structures of metal, plastic and/or other polymers. The aerial vehicle 20 may be formed of various materials that allow for a high thrust-to-weight ratio and generation of electrical energy which may be used in utility applications. Additionally, the materials may be chosen to allow for a lightning hardened, redundant and/or fault tolerant design which may be capable of handling large and/or sudden shifts in wind speed and wind direction.

[0054] As shown in Figure 1 , and in greater detail in Figure 2, the aerial vehicle 20 may include a main wing 22, motor/generators 40a and 40b, tail boom or fuselage 24, and tail wing 26. Any of these components may be shaped in any form that allows for the use of components of lift to resist gravity and/or move the aerial vehicle 20 forward. [0055] The main wing 22 may provide a primary lift for the aerial vehicle 20. The main wing 22 may be one or more rigid or flexible airfoils, and may include various control surfaces, such as winglets, flaps, rudders, elevators, etc. The control surfaces may be used to stabilize the aerial vehicle 20, reduce drag, and/or increase drag on the aerial vehicle 20 during hover flight, forward flight, and/or crosswind flight. The main wing 22 may be composed of suitable materials for the aerial vehicle 20 to engage in hover flight, forward flight, and/or crosswind flight. For example, the main wing 20 may include carbon fiber and/or e-glass.

[0056] Pylons 43 may be used to connect the lower motor/generators 40a to the main wing 22, and pylons 41 may be used to connect the upper motor/generators 40b to the main wing 22. In this example, the pylons 43 and 41 are arranged such that the lower motor/generators 40a are positioned below the wing 22 and the upper motor/generators 40b are positioned above the wing 22. In another example, illustrated in Figures 3-4, pylons 41 and 43 may form a single pylon that may be attached to the underside of the main wing 122. In such an embodiment, pylons 43 and 41 may still be arranged such that the lower motor/generators 40a are positioned below the wing 122 and the upper motor/generators 40b are positioned above the wing 22.

[0057] The motor/generators 40a and 40b may be configured to generate electrical energy. In this example, the motor/generators (including rotors) 40a and 40b may each include one or more blades 45, such as three blades. The one or more rotor blades 45 may rotate via interactions with the wind and the rotational energy may be used to generate electricity. In addition, the motor/generators 40a and 40b may also be configured to provide a thrust to the aerial vehicle 20 during flight. With this arrangement, the motor/generators 40a and 40b may function as one or more propulsion units, such as a propeller. Although the motor/generators 40a and 40b are depicted as four motor/generators in this example, in other examples the aerial vehicle 20 may include any number of motor/generators.

[0058] Referring back to Figure 1, when it is desired to land the aerial vehicle 20, the winch drum 80 is rotated, causing the electrically conductive tether 30 is wind onto drum 80 and reel in the aerial vehicle 20 towards the perch panels 58 on the ground station 50, and. Prior to landing on the perch panels 58, the aerial vehicle 20 transitions from a flying mode to a hover mode. The drum 80 is further rotated to further wind the tether 30 onto the drum 80 until the aerial vehicle 20 comes to rest on the perch panels 58.

[0059] Figure 3 is a side view of an airborne wind turbine 300, according to an example embodiment. As shown, airborne wind turbine 300 includes aerial vehicle 320 perched on perch panel 358 of ground station 350. Figure 4 is a top view of the aerial vehicle 320 and ground station 350 shown in Figure 3, according to an example embodiment. In Figures 3 and 4, ground station 350 includes a tower 352 upon which platform 372, drum support 390, rotatable winch drum 380, gimbal mount 383, and gimbal 384 are positioned. In some embodiments, the tower 352 may be 15 meters in height. In this perched mode, electrically conductive tether 330 is wrapped around drum 380 and extends from the drum 380 to the wing 322 of aerial vehicle 320 (including bridle lines 332a, 332b, and 332c). A levelwind system 500 may also be used to help position the tether along the exterior winding surface 386 of the drum.

[0060] In some embodiments, a portion of the exterior winding surface 386 of the drum

380 may be a continuous helical groove and optionally a variable pitch for the majority of the exterior winding surface 386 to accommodate wrapping the tether 130 in an accumulating pattern within the continuous groove. In one embodiment, the pitch of the grooves may be approximately 38 millimeters and the width of the groove is approximately 27 millimeters.

[0061] When the ground station 350 deploys (or launches) the aerial vehicle 320 for power generation via crosswind flight, the tether 330 may be unwound from the drum 380. In one example, one or more components of the ground station 350 may be configured to pay out the tether 330 until the tether 330 is completely unwound from the drum 380 and the aerial vehicle is in crosswind flight. The perch platform 372 may rotate about the top of the tower 352 so that the perch panel 358 is in proper position when the aerial vehicle is 320 is landing.

[0062] As shown in Figure 4, the perch panel 358 may be aligned with the tether 330 being guided through levelwind system 500 and onto a rotatable drum 380 that rotates about an axis 380a. In this manner, the perch panel 358 faces the fuselage 324 of the aerial vehicle 320 when it is landing. The horizontal drum 380 shown in Figures 3 and 4 has a central axis of rotation 380a. However a vertical drum or an angled drum could also be used. For example, if a drum rotatable about a vertical axis is used, the perch panel support members 356 could be coupled to the drum such that the perch panel support members 356 extend perpendicularly from the axis of the drum and the tether 330 is wound onto the drum over the perch panel 358. In this manner as the tether 330 is wound onto the drum, the perch panel 358 will always face the aerial vehicle 320 and be in position to receive the peg 329 on the fuselage 324 of the aerial vehicle 320.

III. Illustrative System for a Levelwind Carrier System

[0063] Figure 5 illustrates a side view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system, including a levelwind carrier system 500. For clarity within Figure 5, only a portion of previously described winch drum 380 and drum support 390 are shown.

[0064] In this example embodiment, the levelwind carrier system 500 is offset primarily above the drum 380, where the drum is illustrated as a horizontal drum. In other embodiments, such as when the drum is vertical, the levelwind carrier system may be turned 90 degrees, may maintain the same relative positions, and may be offset primarily to the side of the drum. To the extent that relative directional terms such as horizontal, vertical, above, below, up, and down are used herein, those terms are used for ease of reference only and should be understood to refer to relative directions with a horizontal drum as a reference model. However, this disclosure and the claims are not limited to a horizontal drum. A vertical drum or other orientation drum are explicitly considered. Any relative directional terms should be understood to be in reference to the orientation of the drum. For example, with a horizontal drum, "down" refers generally to a relative direction towards the Earth when describing aspects of the levelwind carrier system; however, with a vertical drum, the drum and the levelwind carrier system would be turned 90 degrees and the term "down" would refer to a direction also turned 90 degrees.

[0065] The levelwind carrier system may be coupled to the drum support 390 via a carrier mount 502. A transverse support may include one or more gantry supports 504 and one or more rail guideways 508. The transverse support may also include one more structural plates 506, which may serve to locate and/or structurally reinforce the gantry supports 504, rail guideways 508, and/or serve as a mounting point for such things as a ball screw motor 516. The ball screw motor 516 may drive a ball screw 514 and one or more encoders 518 may record rotation of the ball screw 514 to determine position of a shuttle 512.

[0066] The shuttle 512 may be coupled to the transverse support. In the embodiment illustrated in Figure 5, one or more blocks 510 coupled to the shuttle 512 may slide along one or more rails 508. The shuttle 512 may be coupled to a ball screw nut (not shown) that may be coupled to the ball screw 514, such that rotation of the ball screw 514 will move the shuttle 512 along a length of the drum. The shuttle 512 may serve to move the tether guide 520 and related componentry along the length of the drum during winding and unwinding of the tether 330. Components other than the illustrated rails 508 and blocks 510 may be substituted in the transverse support and still allow the shuttle to be moveably coupled to the transverse support. For example, dovetails or square rails and corresponding blocks may be used to moveably couple the shuttle to the transverse support. As other examples, a t-slot system or roller system may alternatively be utilized. Similarly, drive systems other than the example drive system including the motor 516, ball screw 514, and ball screw nut may be used to move the shuttle along the transverse support. For example, a drive system may include a hydraulic motor and one or more hydraulic pistons, or a drive system may utilize pneumatic pistons. As another example, a linear motor and rail system may be used to couple and/or drive the shuttle. Additionally, a drive system may include other components such as transmissions or gear reducers, couplers, etc.

[0067] A pivot arm 526 may couple the tether guide 520 to the shuttle via a pivot joint

530 at the proximate end of the pivot arm 526 and a pivot joint 528 at the distal end of the pivot arm 526. As used herein, a "pivot joint" may refer to one or more rotatable joints and corresponding mounts that share common axis of rotation. Pivot j oint 530 and pivot joint 528 may each rotate about axes that are substantially parallel to the drum axis 380a and parallel to each other. Tether guide 520 may include a planar tether contact portion 522 that contacts the tether 330. Planar tether contact portion 522 refers to a substantially flat portion of the tether guide 520 and may include additional sections that are not substantially flat. Pivot j oint 528 may be attached to the planar tether contact portion 528, and as illustrated in Figure 5, pivot joint 528 may be attached to surface of the planar contact portion 528, including a top or side surface. The tether guide 520 may further include two or more retention structures 524 disposed on opposing sides of the planar tether contact portion 522. The retention structures may serve to constrain the tether 330 between the retention structures 524 in order to guide the tether 330 in a preferred winding and/or unwinding about the drum 380. Tether guide 520 with planar contact surface 522 is distinguished from a rotating wheel and it is understood that the tether 330 slides through the tether guide 520 as opposed to rotating the tether guide 520 completely about pivot joint 528 due to movement of the tether 330 through or along the tether guide 520. Tether guide 520 is further distinguished from a standard levelwind structure by at least its open bottom that allows it to reversibly engage and disengage a tether and because both its location relative to the drum 380 and its angle can move under influence from the tether 330 via pivot joints 530 and 528.

[0068] The tether 330 may be under tension when the aerial vehicle 320 is in flight or perched, and may be oriented within a range of elevation angles from -ε to +ε as it exits the drum 380. By virtue of the parallel rotation axes between pivot joints 528 and 530 and drum axis 380a, the pivot arm may rest upon the tether 330 and the tether 330 may cause the planar tether contact portion 522 to orient at substantially the same elevation angle ε as the tether 330.

[0069] When the planar tether contact portion 522 rests on the tether 330, it may exert a bias force against the tether 330, as illustrated by the block arrow in Figure 5. The bias force may be a result of a weight of the tether guide 520 and/or other connected components. The bias force may serve to keep the planar tether contact portion 522 and tether 330 in contact during movement of the tether 330 during flight and thus allow the retention structures 524 to constrain and guide the tether 330.

[0070] In some embodiments, the weight of the tether guide 520 and/or other connected components may result in too large of a bias force acting against the tether 330. To counteract a portion of the bias force, a counterweight 534 may be coupled to the pivot arm 526 via a counterweight support 532. The counterweight 534 may be located beyond the proximate end of the pivot arm as illustrated in Figure 5. The counterweight 534 may therefore provide a counteracting torque about pivot point 530 and reduce the bias force applied by the planar tether contact portion 522 against the tether 330.

[0071] Each of the pivot joints 528 and 530 may have hard stops that limit the rotation of one or more components connected to the pivot joints 528 and 530 in order to prevent damaging contact between components. For example, the connection between pivot arm 526 and tether guide 520 may include hard stops that limit rotation of tether guide 524 about pivot joint 528 to within a certain operational range. For example, in the embodiment shown, to prevent the tether guide 520 from rotating into the pivot arm 526 and damaging it, the operational range may be limited to 90° of total rotation. Similarly, in the embodiment shown, the connection between pivot arm 526 and shuttle 512 may include hard stops that limit rotation of pivot arm 526 about pivot joint 528 to 60° of total rotation in order to prevent the counterweight 534 or other component(s) from rotating into the shuttle 512.

[0072] Figure 6 illustrates a top view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system, including a levelwind carrier system 500. For clarity within Figure 6, only a portion of the airborne wind turbine is shown.

[0073] Figure 6 further illustrates an example arrangement of the rails 508 and shuttle drive system, including the motor 516 and ball screw 514. Figure 6 also further illustrates the parallel arrangement of pivot joint axes 530a and 528a in relation to drum axis 380a. The pivot joints 528 and 530 allow for vertical movement of the tether guide 520 (in accordance with a coordinate system in which the drum is considered horizontal) and preferably do not allow movement in the horizontal axis along the length of the drum. Accordingly, retaining structures 524 can constrain the tether 330 and guide it onto the tether winding surface 386 of the drum 380 as the drum 380 rotates and the shuttle 512 moves along the transverse support and parallel to the drum axis 380a. The retaining structures 524 can accommodate an off-normal azimuth angle a of the tether 330 and still guide the tether into or out of a particular winding partem. [0074] The winding surface 386 may include one more helical channels into which the tether 330 lays when wound onto the drum 380. The helical channel(s) may have a constant pitch, or as illustrated in Figure 6, a variable pitch. As illustrated, the pitch distance increases in subsequent rotations of the drum from pi through /¾, where pi, pi, /¾, and /¾ represent the distance between the bottoms of subsequent turns of the helical channel. During winding, the drive system may move the shuttle 512 (and accordingly the tether guide 520) along the transverse support at a velocity dependent on the winding speed of the drum 380 and the pitch of the helical channel at the location the tether is currently winding onto the tether winding surface 386, such that the tether 330 lays into the variable pitch helical channel. For example, the drive system may move the shuttle 512 so that the tether guide may guide maintain the tether at a ±1.5 degree fleeting angle to the center of the portion of the helical channel that the tether is currently winding into.

[0075] For embodiments where it is desirable to increase the bias force applied by the planar tether contact surface 522 onto the tether 330 - for example, where the drum is oriented in a vertical orientation and the tether guide's weight does not provide a bias force, or where the tether 330 is subject to extreme movement due to fluctuations of the aerial vehicle during flight - a spring may be coupled between the pivot arm 526 and the shuttle 512. As illustrated, a torsion spring 531 may be located about the pivot joint 530 and arranged to provide a force against the pivot arm 526 and in the direction of the drum 380 and tether 330. With this arrangement, the spring 531 may supply at least a portion of the bias force.

[0076] Figure 7 illustrates a front view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system, including a levelwind carrier system 500. For clarity within Figure 7, only a portion of the airborne wind turbine is shown. Figure 7 illustrates the transverse support offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface 386 and substantially parallel to the drum axis 380a. In this embodiment, the transverse support is shown offset above the drum 380. Parallel orientations of axes 530a, 528a, and 380a are also further illustrated. Movement of the shuttle 512 along the transverse support and substantially parallel to the drum axis 380 is illustrated by the double arrows above the shuttle 512. Additionally shown is the planar tether contact portion 522 in contact with the tether 330 while the retaining structures 524 constrain the tether 330 from moving horizontally. The portion of tether 330 extending beyond the tether guide 520 is removed for illustrative clarity.

[0077] The example levelwind carrier systems described herein can offer benefits over conventional levelwind systems, including allowing the tether to passively engage and disengage from the tether guide during the beginning of a winding cycle or the end of an unwinding cycle. Additionally, the example levelwind carrier systems described herein can: maintain a minimal fleeting angle while allowing large azimuth angles of the tether; accommodate a wide range of tether elevation angles that account for both flight modes and aerial vehicle perching; prevent small radius curvature of the tether; prevent tether abrasion or contact stress; and, maintain engagement of the tether guide in the case where an aerial vehicle descends below the elevated perch and drops to the ground.

IV. Illustrative Tether Guides and Systems

[0078] Figures 8 through 12 illustrate embodiments of a tether guide, such as tether guide 520. Figures 8 through 12 illustrate a cassette-style three-sided tether guide that may be suspended from pivot arm 526 and rotate about pivot joint 528. The tether guide may have an internal guide channel for engaging the tether and guiding it onto or off of a winch drum. The channel may have three sides and an open bottom that allows the tether to move into engagement with the tether guide and to move out of engagement with the tether guide. A series of rollers and/or one or more belts may form part of the channel and allow the tether to slide within the guide without experiencing significant abrasion or friction. The series of rollers or belts may approximate the curved shape and radius of levelwind wheel. The rollers may be coated in a compliant layer that is approximately equal in compliance to the tether. This may provide benefits such as reducing contact stress that may damage internal tether components (e.g., squeezing the conductor insulation so that it becomes too thin for proper function) or cause the jacket to become too thin from yield/creep and/or to reduce/prevent wear. Guide wings extending below the rollers or belts may create a sloped capture area that helps to guide the tether into the tether guide during engagement. Beneficially, the tether guide can guide the tether through a wide range of tether/fleeting angles while causing minimal wear and having a reduced size compared to a large levelwind wheel that may be needed for stiff tethers or tethers with a large bend radius. Sensors may also be mounted to the tether guide and may provide information about the presence and/or location of the tether. For example, a sensor may be used at the drum-facing end of the tether guide (i.e. , the back end of the tether guide) to determine tether engagement in the tether guide. One or more sensors may be positioned near to and along the length of the channel sides to determine if the tether has moved to a specific position within the channel, such as a position that correlates to a condition during reel-in where a tethered kite's perch hook(s) will not land on a perch panel. One or more sensors may be located at the kite-facing opening of the tether guide to measure the location of tether relative to the opening and/or to determine the azimuth angle. [0079] Figure 8 illustrates a side view of an example embodiment of a tether guide 800 and, for clarity, a portion of pivot arm 526. Tether guide 800 may be deployed in the levelwind carrier system 500 previously described or other winching systems. In the example illustrated, tether guide 800 includes a cassette plate 802. A front horizontal roller 804 with a compliant layer 804c and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the front of cassette plate 802 via one or more roller brackets 816. The front horizontal roller 804 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 800 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 800 by rolling on the roller 804. A rear horizontal roller 806 with a compliant layer 806c and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the rear of cassette plate 802 via one or more roller brackets 818. The rear horizontal roller 804 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 800 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 800 by rolling on the roller 806.

[0080] A bottom plate 814 may be spaced below the cassette plate 802 and coupled thereto by spacers, such as front spacer(s) 820 and rear spacer(s) 822. Vertical rollers 808 may extend downward from the cassette plate 802 to the bottom plate 814 and each vertical roller 808 may include a compliant layer 808c and a harder structural core, as shown in Figure 11. As partially shown in Figure 8, multiple individual vertical rollers 808 may form a series of rollers 812a that define part of an internal channel that may guide the tether. Further illustration is available in Figure 11.

[0081] Tether guide 800 may further include guide wings, such as left guide wing 810a illustrated in Figures 8-10, that serve to help capture and/or constrain the tether during engagement, disengagement, or severe variations in tether movement due to external forces. The guide wings 810a and 810b may be mounted to the bottom plate 814 or other portions of tether guide 800.

[0082] Tether guide 800 may also include sensors which may provide information about the presence and/or location of the tether. Shown in Figure 8 are a front sensor 807a and a rear sensor 824.

[0083] Figure 9 illustrates a front view of an example embodiment of a tether guide

800. Front horizontal roller 804 is shown with axis of rotation 804a. The front horizontal roller 804, in conjunction with cassette plate 802, and rear horizontal roller 806 (not shown) form a top retaining structure that defines, in part, a side of a three-sided channel for guiding the tether. Roller series 812a and 812b are shown extending outward from the cassette plate 802 where they form additional side retaining structures disposed opposite each other. The three retaining structures define a three sided channel with an open fourth side on the bottom for tether entry and exit. The channel extends the length of the tether guide 300. Guide wings 810a and 810b may extend beyond the vertical rollers 808 at an oblique angle to the cassette plate 802 and further extend the side retaining structures. If the guide wings are oriented at an oblique angle, as illustrated in this embodiment, then at a given point along a length of the tether guide 800, a width of the channel is wider at the open fourth side than at the first retaining structure. For example, in this embodiment, the width W2 of the open side of the channel at the front of the tether guide 800 is wider than the width Wi of the channel at the cassette plate 802. Similarly, the width W4 of the open side of the channel at the rear of the tether guide 800 is wider than the width W3 of the channel at the cassette plate 802.

[0084] Rollers 808 are shown extending directly downward from the cassette plate 802 and with axes of rotation 808a that are perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller 804a. However, rollers 808 may extend outward from the cassette plate 802 at an oblique angle, similar to the how the guide wings 810a, 810b are illustrated.

[0085] Figure 10 shows an underside view of tether guide 800, further illustrating an embodiment of tether guide 800 with the obliquely angled guide wings 810a and 810b.

[0086] Figure 1 1 depicts an underside view of an example embodiment of a tether guide

800, with portions removed for visual clarity. For example, guide wings 810a and 810b and bottom plate 814 are not shown. Figure 11 illustrates a multitude of vertical rollers 808, including respective compliant layers 808c, extending outwardly from the cassette plate 814 and forming the series of rollers 812a. Roller series 812b is formed similarly by a multitude of rollers 808 disposed opposite the rollers 808 in series 812a. In the embodiment shown in tether guide 800, each roller series 812a and 812b forms a curved path along a length of the tether guide, such as path 828 for roller series 812b. Preferably, the minimum radius of such a curved path 828 would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the roller series 812a and 812b, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. Preferably, the channel formed in part by the roller series 812a and 812b would be wide at the front of the tether guide 800 and narrow at the back of the tether guide, as illustrated by front width Wi and rear width W3. A wide front width Wi allows the tether to vary in azimuth angle without disrupting the accurate placement of the tether onto the winch drum, as aided by the narrow rear width W3.

[0087] Figure 1 1 also shows pivot joint 815 with pivot axis 528a. As illustrated, pivot joint 815 includes two bearing blocks which may engage pivot arm 526. Preferably, pivot axis 528 is parallel to front roller axis 804a and parallel to rear roller axis 806a. In the embodiment shown, front horizontal roller 804 and rear horizontal roller 806 are shown as single cylindrical rollers; however, each or either of the rollers may include multiple roller sections.

[0088] Figure 1 1 further illustrates the integration of sensors within tether guide 800.

Each of the sensors may communicate with a sensor control unit which may process the information in order to provide meaningful information to an AWT control unit regarding tether engagement and/or position. Located at or near the rear of tether guide 800, sensor 824 may serve to determine whether a tether is in proximity to the back end of tether guide 800. Such proximity could serve to indicate that the tether is engaged in the channel. Sensor 824 may take the form of a photoelectric through-beam sensor with a transmission beam 1124. Tether proximity may be indicated when the transmission beam 1 124 is interrupted between a sending unit and receiving unit of sensor 824.

[0089] Located at or near the front of tether guide 800, such as at the front end of cassette plate 802, sensors 807a and 807b may act independently or in tandem to determine the azimuth angle of the tether when the tether is within the channel. Preferably, sensors 807a and 807b are laser time-of-flight displacement sensors which can measure the displacement of the tether from the sensors by means, in part, of transmission beams 1 107 and 1107b, respectively.

[0090] Additional proximity sensors, such as sensors 826a and 826b, may be recessed in cassette plate 802 and utilized to measure when the tether is in proximity to one of the side retaining structures, such as the series of vertical rollers 812a or 812b, respectively. Preferably sensors 826a and 826b are photoelectric diffuse-reflective sensors, which may detect reflectance from transmission beams 1 126a and 1 126b, respectively, when a tether approaches the side of the channel.

[0091] Figure 12 illustrates another type of retaining structure or portion of a retaining structure for the sides of the tether channel. Guide wings 810a and 810b and bottom plate 814 are not shown. A group 1212a of vertical rollers 808 may be engaged with a belt 1202a, such that when a tether slides through the channel and in contact with a portion of the side of the channel, the belt moves with the tether by freely rotating about the vertical rollers. A similar group 1212b of vertical rollers 808 positioned opposed to belt 1202a may be engaged with belt 1202b to form another side (or portion of a side) of the channel. The retaining structures or portions of the training structures may form a series of linear segments as shown, a single linear segment, or a curved path as illustrated in Figure 1 1. Tensioning elements (not shown) may also be employed to ensure the belts 1202a and 1202b remain taught.

[0092] Figure 13 illustrates yet another type of retaining structure or portion of a retaining structure for the sides of the tether channel. Guide wings 810a and 810b and bottom plate 814 are not shown. Guide walls 1302a and 1302b each form a curved path along a length of the tether guide. Guide walls 1302a and 1302b may include an interior low friction sliding wear surface for contact with the tether. Preferably, the minimum radius of each curved path formed by guide walls 1302a and 1302b would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the guide walls 1302a and 1302b, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. Preferably, the channel formed in part by the guide walls 1302a and 1302b would be wide at the front of the tether guide and narrow at the back of the tether guide.

V. Additional Illustrative Tether Guides and Systems

[0093] Figure 14 illustrates a front view of a portion of an airborne wind turbine employing an example embodiment of a winching system, including a levelwind carrier system 1400. For clarity within Figure 14, only a portion of the airborne wind turbine is shown. Figure 14 illustrates the transverse support 1450 offset in a radial direction from the tether winding surface 1403 and substantially parallel to the drum axis 1402a. In this embodiment, the transverse support 1450 is shown offset above the drum 1402. Parallel orientations of axes 530a, 528a, and 380a are also further illustrated. Movement of the shuttle 512 along the transverse support 1450 and substantially parallel to the drum axis 1402a is illustrated by the double arrows above the shuttle 512.

[0094] Tether 1401 is illustrated as a faired tether with an airfoil-shaped body 1401a, an electrical conductor bundle 140 I d, and an offset tail 1401b attached to the body 1401 a via an extension 1401c. In the illustrated Figure, for the purpose of illustrative clarity only, the portion of tether 1401 extending beyond the tether guide 1400 is removed. Tether 1401 with the fairing and tail may be used instead of the tether 330 with the ground stations and aerial vehicles described herein. However, the used of a three-sided tether guide as previously disclosed herein would interfere with, and potentially damage, portions of the tether 1401 , such as the tail 1401b and/or extension 1401c. Therefore, two-sided tether guides are further disclosed below which better accommodate the use of faired, asymmetric, and other tethers which may be incompatible with the three-sided tether guides. As illustrated, a planar tether contact portion 1400b of tether guide 1400 is in contact with the tether 1401 while the retaining structure 1400a constrains the tether 1401 from moving horizontally in one direction.

[0095] Figures 14A through 18C illustrate embodiments of a tether guide, such as tether guide 1400. Figures 14A through 18C illustrate cassette-style two-sided tether guides that may be suspended from pivot arm 526 and rotate about pivot joint 528. The tether guides include an open-sided guide channel for engaging the tether and guiding it onto or off of a winch drum. The channel has two sides and an open bottom and open side that allows the tether to move into engagement with the tether guide and to move out of engagement with the tether guide. A series of rollers, a sliding surface, a wheel, and/or one or more belts may form part of the channel and allow the tether to slide within the guide without experiencing significant abrasion or friction. The side of the tether guide may approximate the curved shape and radius of levelwind wheel. Rollers may be coated in a compliant layer that is approximately equal in compliance to the tether. This may provide benefits such as reducing contact stress that may damage internal tether components (e.g., squeezing the conductor insulation so that it becomes too thin for proper function) or cause the jacket to become too thin from yield/creep and/or to reduce/prevent wear. Beneficially, the tether guide embodiment disclosed herein can guide the tether through a wide range of tether/fleeting angles, as long as the drum is biased at an angle away from the aerial vehicle, while causing minimal wear on the tether.

[0096] Figures 15 A, 15B, and 15C illustrate a front, top, and bottom view, respectively, of an example embodiment of a tether guide 1500 and, for clarity, a portion of pivot arm 526. Tether guide 1500 may be deployed in the levelwind carrier system 500 previously described or other winching systems, such as the embodiment disclosed in Figure 14. In the example illustrated, tether guide 1500 includes a cassette plate 1502. A front horizontal roller 1504 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the front of cassette plate 1502 via one or more roller brackets 1512. The front horizontal roller 1504 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1500 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1500 by rolling on the roller 1504. A rear horizontal roller 1510 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the rear of cassette plate 1502 via one or more roller brackets. The rear horizontal roller 1510 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1500 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1500 by rolling on the roller 1510.

[0097] A roller plate 1506 coupled to the cassette plate 1502 holds vertical rollers 1508 that extend downward from the cassette plate 1502. Each vertical roller 1508 may include a compliant layer and a harder structural core.

[0098] The front horizontal roller 1504, in conjunction with cassette plate 1502, and rear horizontal roller 1510 form a top retaining structure that defines, in part, a side of a two- sided channel for guiding the tether. Rollers 1508 are shown extending outward from the cassette plate 1502 where they form an additional side retaining structure. The two retaining structures define a two-sided channel with an open third side on the bottom and an open fourth side on the side opposite the rollers for tether entry and exit. The channel extends the length of the tether guide 1500. Rollers 1508 are shown extending directly downward from the cassette plate 1502 and with axes of rotation that are perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller 1504. However, rollers 1508 may alternatively extend outward from the cassette plate 1502 at an obtuse angle in relation to the cassette plate 1502. Also as illustrated in Figures 15A-C, the series of rollers 1508 form a curved path along a length of the tether guide. Preferably, the minimum radius of such a curved path would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the rollers 1508, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. In one embodiment, the minimum acceptable radius would be 25 cm.

[0099] Figures 15A-C also show pivot joint 528 with pivot axis 528a. As illustrated, pivot joint 528 includes two bearing blocks which may engage pivot arm 526. Preferably, pivot axis 528a is parallel to the rotational axis of front roller 1504 and parallel to the rotational axis of rear roller 1510. In the embodiment shown, front horizontal roller 1504 and rear horizontal roller 1510 are shown as single cylindrical rollers; however, each or either of the rollers may include multiple roller sections.

[00100] Figures 16A, 16B, and 16C illustrate a front, top, and bottom view, respectively, of an example embodiment of a tether guide 1600 and, for clarity, a portion of pivot arm 526. Tether guide 1600 may be deployed in the levelwind carrier system 500 previously described or other winching systems, such as the embodiment disclosed in Figure 14. In the example illustrated, tether guide 1600 includes a cassette plate 1602. A front horizontal roller 1604 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the front of cassette plate 1602 via one or more roller brackets 1612. The front horizontal roller 1604 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1600 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1600 by rolling on the roller 1604. A rear horizontal roller 1610 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the rear of cassette plate 1602 via one or more roller brackets. The rear horizontal roller 1610 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1600 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1600 by rolling on the roller 1610.

[00101] A vertical guide plate 1606 may extend downward from the cassette plate 1602.

The front horizontal roller 1604, in conjunction with cassette plate 1602, and rear horizontal roller 1610 form a top retaining structure that defines, in part, a side of a two-sided channel for guiding the tether. The vertical guide plate 1606 forms an additional side retaining structure. The two retaining structures define a two-sided channel with an open third side on the bottom and an open fourth side on the side opposite the vertical guide plate 1606 for tether entry and exit. The channel extends the length of the tether guide 1600. The vertical guide plate 1606 is shown extending directly downward at a perpendicular angle from the cassette plate 1602 and perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller 1604. However, the vertical guide plate 1606 may alternatively extend outward from the cassette plate 1602 at an obtuse angle in relation to the cassette plate 1602. Additionally, as illustrated in Figures 16A-C, the vertical guide plate 1606 forms a curved path along a length of the tether guide. Preferably, the minimum radius of such a curved path would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the vertical guide plate 1606, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. In one embodiment, the minimum acceptable radius would be 25 cm. Preferably, the vertical guide plate 1606 is formed at least in part with a low-friction surface material such as nylon or UHMW plastic that reduces friction wear at the interface between the vertical guide plate 1606 and the tether.

[00102] As described above with respect to other embodiments, Figures 16A-C also shows pivot joint 528 with pivot axis 528a. As illustrated, pivot joint 528 includes two bearing blocks which may engage pivot arm 526. Preferably, pivot axis 528a is parallel to the rotational axis of front roller 1604 and parallel to the rotational axis of rear roller 1610. In the embodiment shown, front horizontal roller 1604 and rear horizontal roller 1610 are shown as single cylindrical rollers; however, each or either of the rollers may include multiple roller sections.

[00103] Figures 17A, 17B, and 17C illustrate a front, top, and bottom view, respectively, of an example embodiment of a tether guide 1700 and, for clarity, a portion of pivot arm 526. Tether guide 1700 may be deployed in the levelwind carrier system 500 previously described or other winching systems, such as the embodiment disclosed in Figure 14. In the example illustrated, tether guide 1700 includes a cassette plate 1702. A front horizontal roller 1704 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the front of cassette plate 1702 via one or more roller brackets 1712. The front horizontal roller 1704 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1700 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1700 by rolling on the roller 1704. A rear horizontal roller 1710 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted at or near the rear of cassette plate 1702 via one or more roller brackets. The rear horizontal roller 1710 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1700 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1700 by rolling on the roller 1710. [00104] Similar to tether guide 1600, a vertical guide structure 1706a extends downward from the cassette plate 1702. A belt 1706 encircles the vertical guide structure 1706a and rotates about the vertical guide structure 1706a via a front vertical roller 1706b and a rear vertical roller 1706c. Preferably the belt 1706 rides along the tether-facing side of the vertical guide structure 1706a. However, in another embodiment, the belt 1706 may be offset from the tether-facing side of the vertical guide structure in one or more locations.

[00105] The front horizontal roller 1704, in conjunction with cassette plate 1702, and rear horizontal roller 1710 form a top retaining structure that defines, in part, a side of a two- sided channel for guiding the tether. The belt 1706 forms an additional side retaining structure. The two retaining structures define a two-sided channel with an open third side on the bottom and an open fourth side on the side opposite the belt 1706 for tether entry and exit. The channel extends the length of the tether guide 1700. The vertical guide structure 1706a and belt 1706 are shown extending directly downward at a perpendicular angle from the cassette plate 1702 and perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller 1704. However, the vertical guide structure 1706a and belt 1706 may alternatively extend outward from the cassette plate 1702 at an obtuse angle in relation to the cassette plate 1702. Additionally, as illustrated in Figures 17A-C, the vertical guide structure 1706a and belt 1706 form a curved path along a length of the tether guide. Preferably, the minimum radius of such a curved path would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the belt 1706, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. In one embodiment, the minimum acceptable radius would be 25 cm. Preferably, the vertical guide structure 1706a is formed at least in part with a low-friction surface material such as nylon or UHMW plastic that reduces friction wear at the interface between the vertical guide structure 1706a and the belt 1706.

[00106] As described above with respect to other embodiments, Figures 17A-C also shows pivot joint 528 with pivot axis 528a. As illustrated, pivot joint 528 includes two bearing blocks which may engage pivot arm 526. Preferably, pivot axis 528a is parallel to the rotational axis of front roller 1704 and parallel to the rotational axis of rear roller 1710. In the embodiment shown, front horizontal roller 1704 and rear horizontal roller 1710 are shown as single cylindrical rollers; however, each or either of the rollers may include multiple roller sections.

[00107] Figures 18 A, 168, and 18C illustrate a front, top, and bottom view, respectively, of an example embodiment of a tether guide 1800 and, for clarity, a portion of pivot arm 526. Tether guide 1800 may be deployed in the levelwind carrier system 500 previously described or other winching systems, such as the embodiment disclosed in Figure 14. In the example illustrated, tether guide 1800 includes a roller mounting structure 1802 with front and rear roller holders 1802a and 1802b, respectively. A front horizontal roller 1804 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted to the front roller holder 1802a. The front horizontal roller 1804 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1800 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1800 by rolling on the roller 1804. A rear horizontal roller 1810 with a compliant layer and a harder structural core may be mounted to the rear roller holder 1802b. The rear horizontal roller 1810 may serve as a contact point between the tether guide 1800 and a tether, while allowing the tether to smoothly move through the tether guide 1800 by rolling on the roller 1810.

[00108] A vertical shaft 1803 extends downward from the roller mounting structure

1802. A guide wheel 1808 is mounted to the vertical shaft 1803 and is rotatable about it. Preferably the diameter of the guide wheel is large enough that it extends substantially in front of and behind the front and rear horizontal roller 1804 and 1810. The guide wheel includes a tether guide surface 1808a along the outer periphery and may include central spokes 1808b to reduce the rotating mass of the guide wheel 1808.

[00109] The front horizontal roller 1804 and rear horizontal roller 1810 form a top retaining structure that defines a side of a two-sided channel for guiding the tether. The tether- facing portion of the guide wheel 1808 forms an additional side retaining structure. The two retaining structures define a two-sided channel with an open third side on the bottom and an open fourth side on the side opposite the guide wheel 1808 for tether entry and exit. The channel extends the length of the tether guide 1800. The guide wheel 1808 preferably extends directly downward at a perpendicular angle from the roller mounting structure 1802 and perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the front horizontal roller 1604. However, other orientations are possible, including extending down and at an obtuse angle to the horizontal rollers.

[00110] Preferably, the minimum radius of the guide wheel 1808 would be greater than the minimum bend radius of a tether that may be engaged in the channel formed in part by the guide wheel 1808, such that the tether would smoothly bend along the channel sides without damage. In one embodiment, the minimum acceptable radius of the guide wheel would be 25 cm.

[00111] As described above with respect to other embodiments, Figures 18A-C also shows pivot joint 528 with pivot axis 528a. As illustrated, pivot joint 528 includes two bearing blocks which may engage pivot arm 526. Preferably, pivot axis 528a is parallel to the rotational axis of front roller 1804 and parallel to the rotational axis of rear roller 1810. In the embodiment shown, front horizontal roller 1804 and rear horizontal roller 1810 are shown as single cylindrical rollers; however, each or either of the rollers may include multiple roller sections.

V. Conclusion

[00112] The above detailed description describes various features and functions of the disclosed systems with reference to the accompanying figures. While various aspects and embodiments have been disclosed herein, other aspects and embodiments will be apparent to those skilled in the art. The various aspects and embodiments disclosed herein are for purposes of illustration and are not intended to be limiting, with the true scope and spirit being indicated by the following claims.