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Solar-Powered Drone can Remain Airborne for Five Years

The market for unmanned drones is growing rapidly; partly because drones are able to perform many of the tasks carried out by satellites, but at a fraction of the cost.

Satellites can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to design and build, and then millions more to send up into space and position it in the desired orbit. Then once there, return is impossible, so any faults, malfunctions, or breakages, are virtually impossible to fix. A drone on the other hand is far cheaper to build, costs very little to launch, and can easily be returned to the ground whenever necessary for repairs.

Related article: Germany Proves Sunshine is not Necessary for a Booming Solar Industry

The main problem that drones have is that they cannot stay airborne for too long.

Solara 50
Solara 50. (Treehugger)

Now, Titan Aerospace has developed a solar-powered, high-altitude drone that can remain in flight for five years.

The Solara 50 will be powered by around 3,000 solar cells, capable of generating 7kilowatts of electricity, and kept aloft by its giant 150 foot wingspan will be able to circle the globe at an altitude of 65,000 feet (above the level of the clouds, and therefore able to benefit from constant sun all day) for up to five years, performing many services often carried out by satellites. The first full scale model should be ready next year.

Suggestions are that the Solara 50 will be used to carry a 250lb payload on a long term flight, to be ready for deployment wherever and whenever needed.  However the drone could also be used for monitoring the environment, large fires, and any natural disasters.

Solar-powered drones tend to suffer the most damage when returning to the ground, as they tend to fall quite hard and can break upon impact. Using a drone that needs to return to the ground far less than normal will help massively reduce the cost of operation.

Related article: US Energy Department Claims the Cost of Solar Power will Fall 75% by 2020

Using the Solara 50 in preference to satellites will also help reduce emissions, which recent research has shown could be quiet damaging from hydrocarbon-fuelled rockets, due to the altitudes that they release their emissions at.

“The Aerospace study has shown that black carbon particles emitted by hydrocarbon-fueled rockets could play a role in climate change in coming decades. Funded by the Aerospace Research and Program  Development Office and other agencies, it is the first study of the effects that rocket exhaust could have on the climate system. Black-carbon particles produced by hydrocarbon-fueled rockets could be significant because rocket exhaust is the only direct source of human-produced compounds in the atmosphere above approximately 20 kilometers (12 miles). Rockets also emit carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other compounds that absorb thermal energy, but soot particles have possibly the greatest potential—on a kilogram-for-kilogram basis— to promote climate change.” (Aerospace.org)

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com



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