Solar Powered ultra-high altitude 'planes
I'd not heard of this before! Comments?
(Re-posted from the SETI mailing list seti@xxxxxxx)
Solar powered plane sets record EDWARDS, Calif., Aug. 10 (UPI) A
remotely piloted, solar-powered aircraft which has the makings of
doing the job of an orbital satellite at a fraction of the cost has
soared to a record 80,000-plus feet during a test flight in Hawaii.
The feat, now in the process of being certified by the National
Aeronautics Association, surpasses the official record altitude of 71,
530 feet for a solar-powered plane set in July of 1997.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Pathfinder-Plus
flew higher than any other propeller-driven craft, says Jeff Bauer,
Environmental Research Airacrft and Sensor Technology deputy program
manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.
The flying wing lifted off from the Navy's Pacific Missile Range
Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i Thursday, staying aloft for
nearly 15 hours and reaching a peak altitude of 80,285 feet, as
recorded by radar tracking.
Fred Brown, a spokesman at Dryden, tells UPI it will take
approximately a month for the NAA to calibrate and certify the
The record flight, mostly over the Pacific Ocean west of Kaua'i, "was
just picture perfect," Bauer said. "We had an absolutely excellent
flight and are looking forward to future successes as we move towards
developing new technologies for improving the quality of life in the
The plane's eight electric motors each with about the power of a hair
dryer are driven by highly efficient silicon solar cells manufactured
by the SunPower Corp. of Sunnyvale, Calif.
"The renewable solar energy enables the pilotless airplane to fly
indefinitely at the edge of space," said SunPower President Richard
Swanson, inventor of the cells, which can convert 19 percent of the
solar energy they receive to electrical energy, in contrast with 14.5
percent efficiency for older solar arrays.
The plane can perform the functions now carried out by orbital
satellites but at a much lower price, space researchers
say. Pathfinder's future could lie in providing less expensive
telecommunications, monitoring global warming, agriculture and
transportation and carrying out science experiments, they say.
What sets Pathfinder-Plus apart, in addition to the cost, is the ease
with which it can be relocated and landed for repairs or a change in
payload for a new mission, the scientists say.
"A huge business advantage could accrue from the use of these flying
platforms because they are so much cheaper to build and launch,"
Swanson said. "While the cost of a conventional satellite is about
$200 million, the Pathfinder-Plus is about $2 million and would be
about $100,000 if launched on a weekly basis."
"I believe we will be operating solar-powered aircraft as
stratospheric satellites routinely in the next century," said Ray
Morgan, vice president of AeroVironment, Inc., of Monrovia, Calif.,
which designed, built and operates the aircraft.
Pathfinder-Plus is one of several high-altitude, long-duration
aircraft being designed under NASA's ERAST program. The aim is to
develop technologies for a future fleet of remotely piloted aircraft
that could serve as high-altitude science and telecommunications
platforms, Bauer said.
Pathfinder's successor, the Centurion, is under construction by
AeroVironment. It is scheduled to begin low-altitude, battery-powered
flights in October and high-altitude, solar-powered tests in the
summer of 1999. The Centurion with a wingspan of 206 feet, compared
to 121 feet for Pathfinder-Plus is designed to reach altitudes of more
than 100,000 for up to two hours.