Aurora’s solar-powered UAV can stay aloft for five years
Aurora Flight Sciences has revealed the design of an unmanned aircraft for DARPA’s Vulture Program, which will be able to fly for a period of five years on solar energy. Known as the Odysseus, the aircraft is designed to fly in the stratosphere at altitudes in excess of 60,000 feet. The aircraft is made by combining three individual constituent aircrafts that are arrange in a unique Z wing configuration optimizing solar collection during the day.
The 500-foot long aircraft would be able to fly on solar energy during the day and recharge its batteries at the same time. During night the aircraft will cut down on speed and spread flat for added aerodynamics, a maneuver which allows the aircraft to sustain itself on its solar charged batteries. The constituent vehicles of the aircraft are designed to automatically dock to the main body during flight, which allows the aircraft to function even if something goes wrong in any one of the constituent vehicles.
The company claims that the aircraft is able to cruise at 63 m/s during daytime, which is reduced to 43 m/s during nighttime, while carrying a payload of 500kg. The onboard batteries are designed to be recharged via the double-sided photovoltaic cells which are optimized for energy collection at high altitudes.