Saturday, 29 August 2009
Photo: Popular Science
Odysseus is the name of the solar-powered concept plane that was recently unveiled by Aurora Flight Sciences. This autonomous surveillance craft will be able to fly above the earth for up to five years straight, deriving power solely from its solar panels.
The craft is a combination of three planes made up of 164-foot-long, wing-shaped structures, which would be launched separately and then combine once in the calmer air of the stratosphere. When fully assembled, it will measure 492 feet in width and will be able to travel at 140 mph at an altitude of 60,000 to 90,000 feet.
Power will be provided by solar panels lining the top of the plane and the craft itself is capable of autonomously changing its shape in order to maximize sunlight exposure.
Although it's designed to be a surveillance platform, the Odysseus could also have civilian applications. John Langford, Aurora CEO, imagines it as an atmospheric buoy, monitoring storm development, climate change or the health of the ozone layer. Either way, he says, it would demonstrate the potential of solar power and serve as a testbed for green aircraft technology. "If we can build an airplane that can stay up for five years with nothing but sunlight," he says, "what else can we do?"