Solar planes making progress
September 11, 2007 6:53 AM   Subscribe

The Zephyr, a solar powered plane, has smashed the record for the longest duration un-manned flight, staying aloft with engines running for 54 hours. This was just a test run at the US military White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, according to the UK developers, "You ain't seen nothing yet". Meanwhile in Switzerland, development continues on the Solar Impulse, which has a goal of flying around the world, manned(!), by 2010.
posted by stbalbach (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome! Soon we'll be able to strafe and carpet bomb round the clock without leaving our chairs!
posted by DU at 7:35 AM on September 11, 2007

So this is an pilotless drone?
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:52 AM on September 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

The zephyr isn't quite up to the task of carrying bombs. Would make a nice alternative to launching a communications satellite though.
posted by zeoslap at 7:59 AM on September 11, 2007

A commsat is lighter than a bomb? I guess a micro/nanosat could be. Still, 12 miles isn't quite enough altitude for orbit.

Oh wait, you mean an alternative to even having the satellite at all, rather than an alternative to launching it. I guess that's true, though you'd need an awful lot of them. And I bet no one wants to pay for coverage in places like the middle of the Atlantic where (I assume) current satphones would work fine in an emergency.
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on September 11, 2007

  1. Google wins 700Mhz spectrum auction;
  2. Zephyr is outfitted with lightweight 700Mhz comms gear;
  3. ...
  4. Profit!
posted by lowlife at 8:33 AM on September 11, 2007

If the body is carbon fibre, and the lack of fuel reduces its carbon footprint, how many in-flight movies could you watch on a 54 hour flight?
posted by rmless at 8:45 AM on September 11, 2007

Normally I'm less than thrilled about ooh-ooh new technology posts, but I think this is really impressive; a technology filled with human scale, human friendly potential.

A commsat is lighter than a bomb?

The thing about bombs is, they have to be heavy to have any substantial effect, and there really isn't anything you can do to make them lighter (Ya, ya, accuracy reduces yield requirement, but even taking that into account..). On top of that, once you drop a bomb, it's used up.

Communications satellites aren't light, but there are lots of things you can trade off to optimise payload. Also, There really aren't any consumables involved in the core mission.
posted by Chuckles at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2007

DU: as far as I understand, the military goal with solar UAVs is to have them constantly airborne in and around a theatre of operations, with better/stronger communications tech on them than satellites. They'll have lower latency, higher speeds, and you can place them wherever you like. You can put cameras on them and have much higher resolution than a satellite can get. The end product being Total Battlefield Awareness.

I guess you can run phone calls on them too, yeah.
posted by blacklite at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2007

Oh right, theater communications! I even knew that but forgot it. Doy.
posted by DU at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2007

One of the most interesting things about this is the battery technology that it uses: Lithium Sulfur Batteries.

They have the highest energy density of any battery technology yet developed (per weight, I think, not sure about volume). There's significant thought being put towards their use in electric ground vehicles in the near future.

Best part is that not only does it work quite well in terms of storage and performance, but it should be cheaper to manufacture than current lithium batteries (sulfur is cheap).
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:39 AM on September 11, 2007

I'd love it if they develop a one-person version and sell it at Wal-Mart.
posted by davy at 11:22 AM on September 11, 2007

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