Last month the experimental solar powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 succeeded its record-breaking journey over the Pacific. The Swiss team behind the aircraft flew 43.041 kilometers around the world without fuel, entirely driven by solar energy. The aviation pioneers are now developing the next step of the project: solar drones.
André Borschberg, one of the pilots of the aircraft, wrote last year: “Now that Solar Impulse’s technology has demonstrated that unlimited endurance is possible for an airplane, I am now keen to start developing future applications”. Borschberg hints to an unmanned aircraft that can stay up in the air for at least six months, using solar energy exclusively. The smaller sized drone would have a wingspan of around 40 meters, with a maximum carriage of 50 kilograms, as opposed to the 72 meters wingspan of the SI2.
The team of engineers is carrying out a research to develop solar drones or so-called high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS). These unmanned aircrafts could replace satellites at lower costs and they don't require large amounts of fossil fuels in order to be shot in the air. As drones are the next natural inhabitants of airspace, why not step it up a notch and levitate to outer space? Ground control to Major Tom. Ready for take off.