These Solar-Powered Giant Winged Drones Could Replace Satellites

Over the past decade, there's been a big push for cheaper alternatives to space travel. Blasting man-made objects into orbit has never been a cheap endeavour, and a company called Titan Aerospace thinks gigantic solar-powered drones could even be a far more affordable alternative to launching satellites.

Circling the globe at an altitude of 65,000 feet, the Solara 50 would be kept aloft by its 50m foot wings that are completely covered in solar panels. During the day it would capture and convert more than enough power to keep flying all night long, and its creators claim it could stay in the air for as long as five years without needing to land for maintenance. It also means that unlike with satellites, at the end of a mission the payload would be safely returned to earth.

At such a high altitude the Solara 50 could be equipped with wireless communications equipment to blanket an area over 27,000km in size. And as IEEE Spectrum points out, a single craft equipped with a cellular base station could replace over a hundred towers on the ground. Titan Aerospace has already successfully tested smaller versions of the Solara UAV, and is optimistic about commercialising the 15m and 18m models within a year, with a price tag far cheaper than blasting a rocket into space. [Titan Aerospace via IEEE Spectrum]

These Solar-Powered Giant Winged Drones Could Replace Satellites


    I didn't think a propeller would be effective so high in the atmosphere.. How high can propeller aircraft go??

      Good question. I'd say it'll have to do with the size of the prop. Thinner atmosphere - larger prop.

        Also much less weight/mass to pull through a thin atmosphere...

        Last edited 23/08/13 11:58 am

    What about storms?

      I seem to recall that cumulonimbus clouds (thunderheads) can get to that level - certainly there'd be a fair bit of turbulence immediately above them, anyway.

      It'd be a bit of a bummer for tens of thousands of people to loose reception in the middle of a storm. I wonder if they'd have to have a few flying around for redundancy...

        They invented steering thousands of years ago...

          Steer it far enough away to avoid a storm and you'd loose your mobile coverage.

            The type of storm heads that would reach this high are generally quite small at altitude, so easily steered around. Besides that, it's not like they happen every week/month so the occasional course correction is hardly a game changer.. :)

    How big are the wings? The article says '50m foot wings'.
    Clarification anyone?

      50ft is only about 16m so I'd say meters... :)

    Great idea, obviously they are then serviceable (unless they crash on approach).

    At the very least they sound like a great option for providing temporary communication solutions to a population following a devastating event of some sort, ie for restoring mobile phone service after an earthquake or fire etc. I know Telstra has a mobile exchange type of unit that they roll into areas where communication equipment has been destroyed, and this sounds like the evolution of that premise.

    Last edited 23/08/13 3:27 pm

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