The massive unmanned airborne vehicle Global Observer is testing beautifully at the moment and could one day - with a companion plane - provide much of the same coverage as a geosynchronous satellite for a fraction of the price.
For more, just ask Bob Curtin, AeroVironment's vice president of business development, who gushed recently to TechNewsDaily (via MSNBC) about the craft's near-limitless reconnaissance chops:
"Global Observer is being developed to address the need for an affordable, persistent platform that can provide seamless communications and ISR over any spot on the globe for as long as required," Curtin said. "Swapping orbits every 5 to 7 days, a two-air vehicle system would maintain uninterrupted coverage in a manner similar to a geosynchronous satellite, but about 2,000 times closer to the earth's surface."
It makes sense. Fewer landings, less fuel (the hydrogen engine aboard generates three times as much energy as conventional fuel) and a light sub-5000kg frame all translate into savings, savings, savings for the armed forces and any other organisation that might need inexpensive monitoring equipment.
Better still, the plane is hydrogen-powered and puts out zero carbon emissions. Surely our nation's enemies will feel some degree of comfort knowing that the drone drawing a bead on their position is not polluting the environment, yes? [MSNBC]