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Designers See Bright Future For Solar-Powered Drone

posted 16 Aug 2013, 12:24 by Mpelembe   [ updated 16 Aug 2013, 12:25 ]

The 'Solara' sun-powered drone developed by US company Titan Aerospace, is designed to stay aloft indefinitely, providing aerial and telecommunications services at 1/100th the cost of current satellite platforms. The drone was a highlight at this week's unmanned systems exhibition in Washington, DC.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (AUGUST 13, 2013) (REUTERS) - The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show attracts exhibitors and potential customers from around the world each year. It's one of the world's premiere venues to see the latest in robotic systems.

Among the highlights at this year's show was Titan Aerospace's Solara drone, an aircraft powered entirely by the sun.

The company, a New Mexico-based start-up, has successfully tested a small-scale prototype, but is planning to launch the full-sized version - with a wingspan of 162 feet - next year. Called Soloara 50, the vehicle is designed for multiple uses, from tracking wildlife and border surveillance, to providing cellphone coverage in remote areas.

Titan Aerospace Chief Technical Officer Maximus Yaney says Solara will be able to perform the same services as current satellite systems at a greatly reduced cost.

"What we're focusing on from a capability perspective is being able to provide these kinds of services as an alternate or adding to satellite platform capabilities, so, telco sectors, cell tower in the sky scenario where you can put a 4G repeater that this will be able to replace literally 100 cell towers. You have a 260 mile horizon, from 65,000 feet (19,812 meters)."

Its designer's say solar power and advanced battery technology gives Solara a clear edge over other systems.

"Solar powered, you have the capability of staying up there effectively indefinitely, you're simply limited by the rechargeable batteries so every day at the -- let me actually step back and go into the life cycle of the way the bird launches. Sometime shortly after midnight, two in the morning, you'll get your launch window, and it flies up under its own power to 65,000 feet (19,812 meters) with a fully charged battery bank. At the point where it hits 65,000, it's six hours later, the battery banks are pretty depleted, and the sun is just cresting over the horizon, hits the solar cells, and starts that standard day-night cycle," said Yaney.

Flying at such a high altitude in wide circles will give Solara 50 the capability of providing transmission services up to a horizon of 260 miles, according Yaney. He says the plane will be capable of staying aloft under its own power for up to five years.

And the price, says Yaney, is also attractive. "Something like one-hundredth the cost of a typical satellite platform," he said.