Odysseus solar-powered plane could stay airborne indefinitely

Aurora Flight Sciences has revealed details of its Odysseus aircraft, a solar-powered autonomous plane that it claims could remain airborne indefinitely.

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Scheduled to make its debut flight in 2019, Odysseus is one of several High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS) currently under development. These aircraft, generally exhibiting large wingspans covered in photovoltaic cells, will potentially replicate some functionalities of satellites but at a fraction of the cost. They are designed to operate in the stratosphere where they are continually exposed to sunlight during the day, allowing them to harvest enough solar energy to operate around the clock.

Odysseus features a 74m wingspan and its carbon fibre strutted frame means that it weighs in at less than a smart car. While it can theoretically stay in the air indefinitely, missions are likely to last months at a time. According to Aurora, Odysseus has a greater year-round global operating zone than any other vehicle in its class and can carry heavier payloads than other comparable HAPS. The company says the aircraft is particularly suited to climate and weather observation and is capable of measuring vegetation, ice coverage and flow rates, and even ground moisture.

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Odysseus is the culmination of decades of work that began with the Daedalus Project. In 1988, that aircraft set records with a 72-mile flight between the Greek islands of Crete and Santorini. The project was led by Aurora President and CEO John Langford and other MIT colleagues who later founded Aurora. The company is now owned by Boeing. 

“Aurora was founded by the idea that technology and innovation can provide powerful solutions to tough problems that affect all of humankind,” said Langford. “Odysseus was an idea born out of Daedalus that is now a real solution to advancing the important research around climate change and other atmospheric chemistry problems.

“Odysseus offers persistence like no other solar aircraft of its kind, which is why it is such a capable and necessary platform for researchers.”

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