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WASHINGTON-An American aerospace company has developed a light-weight solar-powered drone that can fly at 65,000 feet for five years.
The Solara series, the largest of which measures 60 metres wide, are classed as a ‘High Altitude Long Endurance solar atmospheric satellites capable of carrying telecom, reconnaissance and atmospheric sensors.’
The Solara aircraft is self-sufficient - it is covered in around 3,000 solar panels producing about 7 kW of electricity - it will fly above the clouds, so it would be exposed to sunlight constantly during daylight hours and store energy for the night flight.
They are designed to be cheaper than the cost of a satellite, while carrying out similar functions such as surveillance, crop-monitoring, weather and disaster oversight, or any other monitoring that low-altitude satellites track.
One is scheduled for completion next year and could cost less than $2 million, according to Forbes, reports CBS Las Vegas.
The magazine quotes Dustin Sanders, Titan’s chief electrical engineer, as saying, ‘We’re trying to do a single-million-dollar-per-aircraft platform. And the operation cost is almost nothing — you’re paying some dude to watch the payload and make sure the aircraft doesn’t do anything stupid.’
Titan’s website says it has orders for three of the Solara 50s and one of the Solara 60s.
Although they have not divulged who placed the order Breaking Defense website speculates the most obvious customers for the Solara in the defense and intelligence world would be the CIA, NRO and NGA. Chief Technology Officer Max Yaney, told Breaking Defense, early discussions had been held with some of the intelligence agencies.
To illustrate how responsive the aircraft are Mr Yaney told the website that two planes could be positioned in a satellite orbit at either end of the United States and if needed in an emergency they could be repositioned to take photos, provide 4G cell coverage or help with mapping.