Solar plane challenges satellites

Through funding support from NASA, California-based AeroVironment has developed an unmanned, solar-electric airplane called Helios which will eventually be capable of continuous flight for six months or more at 60,000ft in the stratosphere – above the weather and commercial air traffic. A fuel cell energy storage system will provide power to allow the aircraft to fly through the night.

AeroVironment hopes that Helios will provide a low cost alternative to conventional space satellite and terrestrial telecommunications systems. This February, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Wireless Communication Strategic Alliance in Taiwan to jointly assess and pursue stratospheric telecommunications opportunities in Taiwan using the aircraft.

The Helios Prototype is one of several remotely-piloted aircraft-also known as uninhabited aerial vehicles or UAV’s-being developed as technology demonstrators by several small airframe manufacturers under NASA’s Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology project.

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