Monday, 18 February 2019

High-flying pseudo-satellite drone sets new endurance record

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A solar-powered drone designed to take on the multimillion-dollar market for satellites in space has set a record by staying in flight at high altitude for nearly 26 days. Airbus has plenty of plans for its so-called pseudo-satellite, including possible military reconnaissance and monitoring the spread of wildfires, among other activities.

The European aerospace consortium Airbus announced that the latest model of its Zephyr drone had landed near Yuma, Arizona, late last week, after staying on the wing continuously for 25 days, 23 hours and 57 minutes, and breaking a world record for long-endurance flight.

The drone was driven by electric power from solar panels on its wings during daylight, when it flew at altitudes above 70,000 feet (21,300 meters), Airbus spokesman Alain Dupiech told Live Science.

At night, the drone used stored battery power, dropping to around 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) by morning — well above any clouds and bad weather, and higher than regular air traffic, except military spy planes, Dupiech said. [Supersonic! The 11 Fastest Military Airplanes]

Previously, the endurance record was held by an older prototype of the Zephyr drone, which stayed airborne 14 days in 2014.

Image: Airbus hopes the drone can be used to carry out some tasks currently carried out by satellite.
Airbus hopes the drone can be used to carry out some tasks currently carried out by satellite.Airbus

Airbus hopes the latest Zephyr drone will take on some of the commercial market for satellite launches into Earth orbit, by carrying out tasks like high-altitude photography and environmental monitoring for weeks or months at a time.

“It’s pretty encouraging,” Dupiech said. “We’re demonstrating that the first production series unit is a lot better than the prototype.”

High-altitude pseudo-satellite

Airbus calls its Zephyr drone a HAPS, or high-altitude pseudo-satellite.

A typical rocket launch to put satellites into Earth orbit can cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and Airbus thinks that high-flying long-endurance drones like the Zephyr can do a better job at many tasks than satellites, and at much lower costs.

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